My team can beat your team, I bet.
If you haven't taken part in "Blazers Pick'Em" yet, you should. Go to our website and find it here.
You get an opportunity to make up your own roster but with a twist. There's a limit, a kind of salary cap associated with your team. You have to be smart to pick up a few players on the cheap to supplement your stars -- just like a real NBA general manager.
Here's a look at my team:
- Bill Walton -- my first choice. A former MVP of the Finals and a player who makes others better. At his healthy best, one of the greatest players of all time. If he isn't on your team, don't even talk to me.
- Damian Lillard -- OK, this gives me two superstars to build my team around. A pick-and-roll with Lillard and Walton would be unstoppable and the ability of both players to play at clutch time would be tough to beat.
- Buck Williams -- a bargain on the board. You go ahead and take Rasheed Wallace if you wish. Buck would pick him up and throw him in the Willamette River. A physical presence like no other.
- Danny Ainge -- A tremendous competitor who knew how to win. A perfect role player alongside the stars of this team. And if you ever need a backup GM, he's your man.
- Nic Batum -- Another bargain and a perfect fit on this roster because he can defend any position and would be happy with whatever shots he ended up with -- perfect fit.
A few thoughts about the blockbuster Cleveland-Boston trade:
- One thing I've always admired about Danny Ainge: He's got a lot of guts. He always has. He's totally unafraid. And in pulling the trigger on a trade with the team he's trying to beat in the NBA East, he's taking a gamble. In trading his team's best and most popular player he's making an even bigger gamble. And in taking on Kyrie Irving, well, he might be taking the biggest gamble of all. But he doesn't really care what anyone else thinks, he does what he thinks is right. It's the same as the trade he pulled off prior to the draft with the No. 1 pick. He thought Jayson Tatum was the best player in the draft and knew he didn't have to take him with the first pick, so he moved the pick. And he really didn't care what anybody else thought of the deal. The guy has had plenty of self-confidence and courage since the day he started playing basketball. I remember watching him as a high-school junior in the Oregon state basketball tournament and on the football field and marveling at how he laughed in the face of pressure. He seemed totally immune to it and probably still is.
- In today's world, people running franchises who are willing to make a big gamble or controversial move without worrying about what fans or media will think about it are rare -- and usually worth their weight in gold.
- Ainge has put a big burden on his coach, Brad Stevens. As well he should -- Stevens is one of the best in the business. But I think Stevens will need to be at the top of his game to find the kind of team chemistry the Celtics had last season. Irving, I've heard, is pretty tough to handle -- for his teammates and his coaches. Getting him to play the team game and keeping him out of calling his own number all the time might be a problem.
- This deal has long-term ramifications that should not be ignored. Irving is four years younger than Thomas (who is dealing with a hip injury) and in better health. Most people in the league believe LeBron James is headed out of Cleveland after this season and Boston has positioned itself to be the next big thing in the East. Thomas has one year left on his contract and Irving has two years and a player option for a third. Ainge is making a move that's possibly good for this season but definitely good for the seasons after that.
- Thomas is 5-9 and often listed at 185 pounds. He doesn't look as if he's within 20 pounds of that number, however. Irving is 6-3 and 193. Players as small as Thomas have a pretty rough ride in the NBA -- and I'm not so sure how long he can keep that slight frame healthy enough to carry the heavy load he carried last season. I certainly wouldn't invest in that body with a long-term max deal.
- Kevin Love and Thomas played on the same AAU team in high school and I'm sure they will play well together. Cleveland will be OK next season if Thomas stays healthy. Of course, behind him is Derrick Rose, another player whose continued good health is no sure thing.
- I don't know what to think of Irving and his desire to get away from James. But I have a feeling that PLAYING with LeBron is OK, it's just existing with him that's a problem. You hear stories about the entourage, about LeBron basically running the whole organization -- stuff that can't be easy on teammates.
- The Celtics have reshaped their team coming off what was a very good season. That takes guts. But that's Danny Ainge.
Oregon's Jordan Bell is obviously going to hurt for a while over not being able to grab two key rebounds off missed North Carolina free throws Saturday night in the NCAA semifinals. But come on, the Ducks would have had to go the length of the court and hit a rushed shot to beat the buzzer in order to win that game. Yes, I know. It's happened before. But...
I'd suggest there are certainly other things that are just as valid reasons for losing that contest. To wit:
- How about hitting a three-point field goal once in a while? My goodness, the college three-point line is close enough there's really no excuse for not hitting at least 40 percent of them. The Ducks managed to nail just seven of 26 (26.9 percent) of their threes. That's just not good enough.
- There were 16 turnovers, too. In a big game, Oregon could not afford to give up that many possessions to an outstanding team.
- For some reason this is not being talked about but it was a huge part of what happened inside the final six seconds of the game. The Ducks had the ball, trailing by three points, when Oregon's Keith Smith popped open for a layup, which he converted, with six seconds to go. Now if Oregon still had a timeout left, or if the college game had the NBA rule where a timeout late in a game allows teams to move the ball to the front court. that would have been fine. But really, I'd much rather have seen the Ducks try to find an open three-point shot. Tie the game right then and there. But that late, going for a two -- even a near-certain two -- still leaves your team a point short. And I didn't feel, at that moment, there was enough time left to get that single point. Oregon got incredibly lucky that the Tar Heels could not make one free throw in four attempts and that kept hope alive. But it was a faint glimmer.
- Yes, I know. The NCAA tourney has seen a couple of golden moments when players, Tyus Edney and Danny Ainge come to mind, scrambled the length of the court in a few seconds to win a game at the final horn. But we don't as easily remember the countless other times when such a mission failed.
This was the worst game Oregon played in the entire tournament and North Carolina certainly deserves some credit for that. But the Heels didn't play well, either, and the Ducks had a lot to do with that, too. Tough ending to a terrific season. The farther you go in a tournament, the more it hurts to lose.
And as you've probably heard before, losing hurts more than winning feels good. I just don't think Bell should bear the brunt of those feelings.