Every NBA team wants to win, including your favorite local team, the Portland Trail Blazers. The looks and feel are great, but nothing takes the place of great basketball with beautiful victories. The issue, of course, is how do they get there? Or, more specifically, how do you know your team’s methods are likely to get them there? This is the topic for today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Sometimes we seem frustrated or sometimes resentful about our future prospects. She often responds to GM’s opinions with a counterargument. Especially since you did it with Olshey but in your podcast you seem to be with Joe Cronin too. My question is how do you know the difference? What makes a good argument that convinces you personally?
I think I know what you would do, in part because I modified your question a bit. Here’s a tip for everyone: We rarely type more than 3-5 sentences out of any given question. If there is more, it is because there is a lot of context of necessary details and the writer has done an exceptional job with it.
I love reading all your questions. I go through the long pages just like the six words. But if you want your query to stay there mostly unchanged, it would be helpful to put it at the top of the page and make it as direct as possible.
So, on the arguments for or against the teams or course of action…
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t see any argument as credible simply because I agree with it. I learned this early on in the church world, actually. (The other big place I work.) I often hear members of the congregation or people in general making claims about or against religious assertion. I agree with some of these claims. But when I ask how they came to this conclusion, their reasoning actually leads to dismay. Not everyone who publicly claimed something in particular represented that thing fairly and well. So I learned to examine the reasons and motives behind the allegations rather than just saying, “This guy is right – because I agree with him – so his argument is compelling!”
Directing the argument has nothing to do with its validity. The first thing I want to know is the same as what you want to know: Is this argument factually valid and is the reasoning behind it part of a logical chain that fits with what we know about the world? This is very important when studying commercial offers, for example. Desire or need to trade is not enough to accomplish it. The trade must operate according to CBA rules, first and foremost, and then by what we know about the player’s relative value and the inclinations of each participating team.
But I think your question goes deeper than that. You ask what criteria I use to judge whether an argument is valid/convincing, not just sound. Since team executives always make positive statements about the prospects for the teams they manage, you ask how do I know if there’s a claim that “things are getting better!” Really means things are getting better.
This is tricky, but I’ll give you one metric that anyone can use, right away.
When someone claims that Route A, B, or C will bring their team victory, ask how many other teams can make the same argument.
All 30 NBA franchises want to win. All thirty are operated by reasonably qualified professionals. Everyone has access to the same limited number of resources: salary as defined by a collective bargaining agreement, draft selection, and trade options. Few have extra perks, but you’ll never hear the LA Lakers general manager say, “We’re going to win this year because we have access to nightlife, movie/celebrity industry, and good weather.” They will refer to the same set of factors as everyone else.
If all 30 teams are exactly equal, they each win 50% of their matches. This is the default. If you only provide arguments that other teams can also put forward in similar ways, you will not have changed the default. It doesn’t matter how good your clicking sounds or how much we want to believe it. Distinction, if not uniqueness, is the only way to get a file shooting In winning everything.
Claims like, “The Blazers are making room for the hood so you’ll have a stretch this summer,” mean little. You can adjust somewhat with ledger sheets for different perks and availability of free agents, but in a given year many teams will have cap space or equivalent exclusions. It might be better to have it or not, but the cap space and salary flexibility don’t win. It is not unique. It’s built into the system for all teams.
Even worse, ‘We’re one player away…’ or ‘If we could have a second [or third] Star… “The arguments. They are correct! But how many other teams would be significantly better with another high-quality player or an extra star on the roster? Literally all of them. What if the Minnesota Timberwolves or the Chicago Bulls got another high player? Quality?They will also be world-beating.
Someone – I forgot who – once said that the NBA operates in a binary world. Either you sell the gains or you sell the hope. Any argument for how to improve that applies to many other teams falls firmly in the latter category. Victories do not require such discussion. The victories prove themselves.
This leads to some kind of circular argument, I think. You will know you win when you win. This is unsatisfactory, but there is an important corollary to it: You’ll know you’re winning when you don’t have to offer those hope-based affirmations anymore. In other words, if you have to say, “Only one star away…” you’re not there yet, by definition. You already know where you are by the prompts from your mouth or from your mouth.
All hope is not lost. some claims be Unique, or at least limited enough to be significant. I don’t advocate much for the things Neil Olshei did as head of basketball operations in Portland, but I got his mindset this way: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were, for years, the only truly unique things on Portland’s roster. This may have contributed to the reservation that it was traded for anything less than another unique feature. So is Daryl Morey and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia this season. He made exactly this argument, sticking to his unique origins until it was brought back in kind via James Harden.
Teams may cite a top 3 (not the top half or even a top 10) attack or defense, a narrow and specific set of needs to fill via a free agency, or high-quality lottery selection as examples of distinct assets that distinguish them, at least for the time being, from peers. those things. This is where the argument for victory begins.
Exclusivity is not the only currency spent on the road to victory. Elite teams are not made up of 15 non-parallel origins. But the team needs these unique distinctions first, before other claims matter. If you’ve entered two superstars or a defense that beats the universe along with 55 wins the previous season, there’s reason to believe a mediocre possession or two in free agency will make headway. In the absence of those distinct sides, that’s just adding more leaves to a salad on a plate that’s lacking in protein. Authority + authority = authority. You need more before you can start selling it as a five star meal.
Long story short, when you hear someone – a fan or a CEO – claim that their method or variant is the key to success, ask how many other teams will also claim that and if any aspect of your team makes them more effective than it would be in any of the others. Then you’ll know if you’re talking about progress or hope.
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