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Old 04-14-2001, 10:50 AM   #1
blankmind
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Snow White's evil stepmom asked the mirror on the wall who was the best looking woman in the land. Once she was no longer number one, she took draconian steps in her attempt to reestablish her position. With today's medical technologies, she could have done things to correct her own flaws instead of killing all those who surpassed her in beauty. The Blazers face a similar dilemma entering the playoffs. At the beginning of the season the pundits crowned them NBA champs in waiting and now at the end of the year they have fallen behind several teams and no longer represent the team to beat for the championship. Since the team can not take radical actions as the evil stepmom attempted, they must use traditional means to correct the few blemishes and attempt be a top tier team again. Not much separates the top tier teams from those in the second tier, and the Blazers might still compete in the playoffs and win the championship if they tweak the team entering the playoffs.

Everyone knows entering the playoffs represents the worse time to have to tweak the role of players and change the team rotations, but with injuries to starter Bonzi Wells and reserve Shawn Kemps drug problems, and the fact the Blazers have shown not be one of the elite teams, alterations to the team has become a necessity. Although the Blazers by NBA standards have an old team, they have at least stocked the team with quality old players and with some minor changes might still take a stab at winning the championship and reemerge as an elite team.

The biggest misfortune that will not be changed and so will not be discussed will be the coach, Mike Dunleavy, needs to be changed. Dunleavy has shown his inability to develop young talent. The strange rotations which have not allowed chemistry between players to develop. Or his inability to develop Damon Stoudamire into a point guard that finds his teammates first and looks for his shot second. Or how Dunleavy finally needed to coach in the last quarter of the western finals and could not stop the hemorrhaging in allowing the Lakers to steal the championship the Blazers should have won last year. Or the pathetic and demeaning Hack-A-Shaq style of ball that alienated and embarrassed the team, or..... Let's examine what should and could be changed to return the Blazers to elite team status and maybe a championship.

Instead the Blazers need to begin the tweaking by starting Rod Strickland over Damon Stoudamire. Just as starting Bonzi Wells over Steve Smith allowed for better defense by the starting lineup and allowed a scorer to be inserted into the second team, a similar renaissance would happen with changing the point guard now that Smith has returned to starter because of Bonzi's injury. The starting lineup has been built to allow the point guard an abundance of assists. Smith, Pippen, Wallace and Sabonis represent four players that can score and not mere defensive specialists or one dimensional rebounder types. Sadly Damon does not distribute the ball well, but instead appears to look for his shot first and not understand that this team does not need a PG that shoots first, but passes first. Rod represents the type of PG that the team needs, a passer first and does not need to score. Even playing about half the time of Damon, Rod has more assists per game. Also Rod brings more height to start the game against the opposing guard. Imagine the problems for other teams if all the starters were involved immediately in the offense and the PG actually decided to distribute instead of shoot.

Just as Bonzi started but Smith received the bulk of the minutes, the same thing could happen with Damon and Rod. This switch would permit the offense to rev up early on with more passes into the dominating front court and then allow Damon to bring more offense off the bench as Davis and others with less offensive game need not a passer but a scorer. Smith flourished as a reserve and Damon's shoot first game fits better as a reserve than a starter, as Rod's passing first fits better with the starters than the reserves. This move should also energize the starters in knowing the ball will be arriving any moment if they break open and create more player and ball movement.

Next the team must involve the best player on the team further in the offense. Rasheed Wallace needs to have more touches and shots as the Blazers enter the playoffs. Rasheed has the ability to dominate and lead the team, but he first must have the guards pass the ball into the interior players. Wallace already plays excellent defense but will now be expected to shoot 20 times or more a game. Wallace inside dominance will allow for better shots for the other players, and Smith should see and make more outside shots. No more excuses about Rasheed might be ejected and hence why he has not been the focal point of the offense as Garnett, Webber, Malone, Duncan and other teams use their dominant player. Time to take the wraps off one of the most dominant NBA players and allow him to show the rest of the fans what Blazers faithful already know about Rasheed's abilities and not merely the post office poster view others have. The misperceptions could be erased with a dominant post season.

Next, the Seattle Sonics South experiment must end. Already Kemp has entered drug rehab and now Schrempf and his slow footed, no defense playing, 38 year old body should be sat on the bench and Stacy Augmon should be the reserve coming off the bench. Augmon brings superior defense and better speed than the slow footed Schrempf.

If Dunleavy has no desire to play Augmon then increase the minutes and use only Sabonis, Davis, Pippen and Wallace in the front court and make the other team match up against Blazer strengths instead of matching up against the other team. Only Wallace plays over 35 minutes per game, and hence the players have not been worn out during the season, and Pippen commented on how he paces himself during the long season, and this might be extrapolated to include the other older players on the team.

Finally the Blazers should consider using Pippen as the PG for limited stretches against teams as they did against the Utah Jazz. He brings size and defense to the PG position that stresses and stretches the opponent while bringing excitement to the fans and team.

Bottom line, no reason this team could not return to elite status with the Spurs, Kings and Lakers with the players currently on the team. But only if the team decides to take some minor reconstructive steps to the lineup, utilize their players, and change which players to have in the rotation. The problem of tweaking the rotation and starters as the playoffs approach will be the second guessing that occurs if the changes fail. Belatedly the Blazers face the daunting prospect of flaming out and not even reaching the conference final, or using the recent Bonzi and Kemp problems as a smokescreen to perform some minor changes and the chance of returning to elite status. The Blazers have the depth of talent to perform the metamorphous necessary to retune to elite team status, something that other second tier teams do not have the luxury of performing.

Louis Sears
www.SportsScribes.com
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