Portland's Pursuit of Paul Millsap: Sincerity or Strategy?

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
3:53
PM ET

In the next couple of days, everyone I have talked to suspects, Utah will match the offer that the Portland Trail Blazers have made to Paul Millsap, and the whole thing will be seen as no big deal.

Except in Utah, where they will feel like victims, because they'll feel a ton of financial pain.

They may even have the idea that Portland completed the whole exercise not to get Millsap, but simply to make problems for Utah. (Problems that, it must be acknowledged, could induce the Jazz to shed salaries, and no team is better positioned to help shed salaries than ... Portland.)

A key question is: Does Portland really want Paul Millsap?

On one level, I think any team would like the guy -- he's a very effective player, and the Blazers have expressed an urge to get tougher.

But Portland has been storing up this cap space for ages, and they won't have space again, essentially, forever, after the re-sign their core players. They have young talent and could make all kinds of lop-sided trades.

Would they really go all-in for Millsap? Was the pursuit of Millsap sincerity or strategy?

My best guess is that it was 100% strategy.

My evidence is circumstantial:

  • Exhibit A: The team has LaMarcus Aldridge as a fixture big man at power forward. (With Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden at center, this isn't one of those teams that will sneak two power forwards out there for long stretches either.) In addition, the Blazers just drafted three forwards -- Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph and Victor Claver. On top of all that, Travis Outlaw has played effective minutes as an NBA power forward, and will be looking for ways to get on the court.
  • Exhibit B: Kevin Pritchard took over the Blazers in March 2007. Since then Portland has tried out many different big men to play alongside Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. LaMarcus Aldridge, of course. But also Channing Frye, Ike Diogu, Josh McRoberts, and now Cunningham, Pendergraph and Claver. Your typical power forward is not a shooter. But these all are. Doesn't that send a strong message? My conviction is that a core strategy of the Blazer offense is to have four shooters on the floor at all times. That's why Brandon Roy is so effective: He can get to the hole at will, but no matter where you send the double-team from, he can easily find someboy who will be ready to shoot. That system breaks down a little if you play a power forward who doesn't hit jumpers. A player like Paul Millsap. Which is why the Blazers have never, to my knowledge, courted any big men who can't shoot.

Now, if my hunch is right, and Portland signed Millsap more to mess with Utah than to acquire Millsap, does it matter?

Not really. It's all part of the game.

But we have been seeing more and more of those quotes from other GMs saying negative things about the Blazer front office, and after the Darius Miles letter, the aggressive way they hijacked Brandon Roy in the 2007 draft, and incidents like the Millsap signing, it's less of a mystery than ever as to why.

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