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Posted: Friday December 5, 2008 11:56AM; Updated: Friday December 5, 2008 12:45PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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Brandon Roy, an All-Star last season, leads the Blazers in scoring and assists.
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Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from users in his mailbag.

4. I've been following Brandon Roy since high school when I lived in Seattle and went to UW. You've got it wrong about his athleticism. This kid could jump out of the gym in high school and at UW. I think the knee injury may have taken a bit of that athleticism but more so I think he just chooses not to, maybe not to take the risk or he's just so smart at the game that he doesn't need to call on it to beat his defender. Now that I live in Portland, I continue to follow his career. He still has great hops; he just doesn't put them on display that often. It's just not his style, but I'd guess if you asked his teammates about the best athletes on the team, they'd say Travis Outlaw and Brandon Roy.
-- Jim, Portland

I received quite a few letters from Oregonians who were offended by my praise of Roy. The point I was trying to make is that Roy is so much more than just another athlete.

Could Roy break down the defense time after time after time if he chose to? I'm sure he could. But here's the key question: Would he survive the pounding that Kobe Bryant and other high fliers have absorbed over the years? Some people in the league think he would not. I remember that Roy posted a high vertical leap in the predraft testing, and I've seen him routinely beat defenders to get to the basket. But the key to athleticism in the NBA isn't just beating your man into the paint; it's also absorbing the punishment that goes with it. In practical terms, over 82 games year after year, Roy's body wouldn't hold up if he were trying to play above the rim like so many of his peers. In that sense, he isn't the same kind of athlete as we're used to seeing among the young players in the NBA.

We can argue back and forth about this and miss the larger point I was trying to make: There are a lot of athletes in the NBA, but there are very few players who know how to control the game as Roy does so well.

Was I criticizing Roy in this column? I didn't think so, but I'm sure I could've phrased things better. While writing this column, I was actually concerned that I was gushing too much over him. I love that he doesn't have to play above the rim, and I view it not as a weakness but as a strength that he applies his explosiveness in short, intelligent bursts. I want to see him extend his career because there are too few players as it is with his feel for the game.

3. What if the Cavaliers win it all over the next two years? Does all the talk about LeBron's free agency then become a moot point? As one of the top three teams in the league, it's not a too-far-off possibility.
-- Nathan, Portland

The talk won't end until LeBron signs his next contract. The innuendo will continue whether or not he answers questions about it. It would be hard for him to leave Cleveland after leading the Cavs to a championship, but who knows for sure? Let's say he does re-sign with the Cavs: Even then he might very well negotiate another short-term deal that will enable him to opt out again, in 2013, when he'll be 28. It's a good bet the team that signs LeBron in 2010 is going to be under recurrent pressure to win a championship with him, or risk losing him again three years later.

2. Given the way Devin Harris is playing for New Jersey, how should we view the Mavericks' trade for Jason Kidd? Is it fair to conclude already that the trade was a total bust for Dallas?
-- Sam V., Oklahoma

Had he remained in Dallas, would Harris be playing to his current style as a slashing scorer worth his current scoring average of 24.8 points with the Nets? Probably not. In Dallas, he would be sharing the ball with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and others. But the Nets need his scoring desperately, and to his credit he is delivering. The Mavs felt they needed leadership at point guard, and were they going to get that from Harris? The years ahead will provide evidence of whether Harris might have turned into a winning postseason quarterback for Dallas.

The bottom line is that Harris is a terrific scorer for the Nets, while the Mavs are asking Kidd to be a playmaker. Those are two entirely different roles. It's too early to call it a total bust while the Mavs are still adapting to new coach Rick Carlisle.

1. I'm curious what, if any, impact the experience of playing on the U.S. Olympic team will have on the players involved, many of whom are 2010 free agents. On a practical level, I've always thought that if players were really committed to winning a championship, they would take a less-than-max deal, club together, experience the joy of playing with each other and win a few titles. Of course, it's probably tough to leave a few million (or tens of millions) on the negotiating table. However, having had a firsthand experience of what it would be like training and playing as a team with each other (as opposed to just in All-Star Games), would there be any traction for the idea of some of these premier free agents to forego some riches and actually get together for a run of titles?
-- Tze Haung, Singapore

The short answer is no, unfortunately. Players compete among each other for money just as they struggle for baskets, regular-season victories and championship rings. If one star agreed to take less money, then he may feel like a fool after seeing his GM award the extra cash to a less talented player who demands every last dollar he can get. You'll often see players near the end of their careers take a small contract in order to play for a contender, as Karl Malone did to play with the Lakers a few years ago. Gilbert Arenas and Tim Duncan each agreed to take less money than he could have demanded in order to help the team recruit better talent around him. But the idealistic scenario of several top players' agreeing to reduced salaries in order to play together is unlikely to happen in the NBA.

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