Trading Down – Trailblazers Dare to Dream Again

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Blazers, Hoops
Tags: , , , , ,
NBA trade deadline day is generally my favorite day of the year.  It is something like Christmas morning for a die-hard hoops fan.  While so many others were closely monitoring Dwight-Gate 2012 (Countdown to Dwight-Gate 2013 just started), or following the first day of March Madness, I was more interested in seeing what the Portland Trailblazers would do.  For anyone who has ever rooted for a team with the intensity that I have rooted for the trailblazers for as long as I’ve been a blazermaniac, you know that when a team gets as bad as this trailblazers team gets, sometimes it’s more fun to root for them to bottom out than it is to root for them to make that 8th playoff spot.  The possibility of high lottery picks in this draft are more tantalizing than another first round playoff exit, especially without the potential excitement of Brandon Roy’s playoff antics. If we’ve seen anything over the history of the trade deadline it’s that adding one or two quality players rarely helps a team on the outside looking in get to the inside, and can go a long way to damage a team’s a long-term prospects.  In order to have a shot at the championship in three years, you have to blow it up now.  The Blazers were close a few years back, Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Batum was a potentially devastating nucleus.  At the time they were seemingly as valuable to a budding franchise as Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden.  It just didn’t pan out.  The Blazers rolled the dice on players with injury risks and crapped out.  The good news is that they finally sacked up and admitted it today.  Today they emptied their clip and reloaded.
Letting Nate go was probably the first move of the day, even if it was announced at the end.  Nate has a great coaching career ahead of him, and it was a good move for Portland to put him out of his misery.  He’s tinkered with these rotations and offenses long enough, trying to find a combination that will help this bunch over achieve despite their horrific injury luck one more time.  They don’t need to try to over achieve anymore, they need to accept where there at, take a long look at their young players, and shoot for a strong lottery pick.
Their next move was jettisoning Gerald Wallace to a Nets franchise reeling from the loss of a potential D-Will/Superman Brooklyn opening season.  Given how relatively ineffective Wallace has been this year, I think Portland had to be fearful that Crash might pick-up his player option for next season, delaying any rebuilding efforts, limiting their ability to re-sign Batum, and eliminating their ability to add a key player in free agency. In return they get the rotting corpse attached to Mehmet Okur’s expiring contract, a new school jailblazer candidate in Shawne Williams, and a Top-3 protected lottery pick from New Jersey for 2012.  As it stands now, NJ has a 20% chance of keeping that, and unless they plan to tank, that chance those odds as likely to tip even more strongly in favor of the pick sliding over to the Blazers.  In terms of money, the Blazers potentially bring back $3.16 in Shawne Williams next year, assuming he picks up his player option.  But given the fact that he can probably provide them some value as a stretch 4 off the bench – that’s baggage Portland was willing to take on their journey.
Another important component of this trade, which can’t be forgotten is that the Blazers really needed to double up on this draft, because if they wait until next year and still stink, their pick goes to Charlotte, thanks to the trade that brought them Wallace last year.  If you combine their deadline deals from last year and this year, essentially they ended up trading Dante Cunningham for Shawne Williams and Mehmet Okur and exchanging their 2013 draft pick, for New Jersey’s 2012 draft pick and lost about 4 months of play from the Vanilla Gorilla.  Not too bad.
In the second move of the day the Blazers let go of Marcus Camby, wisely bringing back two expirings in Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn and a 2nd round pick.  I like this move for multiple reasons:
1) Having already let go of Wallace, letting go of Camby basically guts their defense (which hasn’t looked good this year anyway) beyond repair for the rest of the year.  This can only help their odds of increasing their own draft position.
2) They get two audition two former lottery picks in Thabeet and Flynn.  Granted neither of them is likely worth a qualifying offer this offseason, but you never know.  Thabeet hasn’t played more than 19 minutes in the last two years, and he’s only played over four times.  There has to be a reason for that, but given the dearth of centers the blazers currently possess, my guess is he tops 20 minutes at least a few times before the end of the season.  Flynn on the other hand averaged 13.5 and 4.4 assists in his rookie year and hasn’t seen significant time since, languishing for most of his career in Kurt Rambis’s ridiculous Triangle Offense experiments and most recently behind quality point guards like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic.  There is some potential left for Flynn and he should get the opportunity to audition for the blazers and free agency.
3.  You can never have too many draft picks.  Even second rounders.
Lastly, Raymond Felton is apparently a cancer no NBA team is willing to play with.  Despite allegedly offering him to any team in the league, presumably for anything except taking back a long term contract, the Blazers found no takers.  It’ll be interesting to see where he lands in the off-season.  My guess is he doesn’t play consistent minutes for the Blazers from here on out.  They have no reason to help his free agency value and no reason not to audition the heck out of Flynn, Elliot Williams, and Nolan Smith.  They might as well see if they have anything worth hanging on to in those three.
Crawford stays put too.  It would’ve been great if the Blazers had managed to flip him into Eric Bledsoe, but I understand them not wanting to take back Gomes’ contract as a throw-in.  Ultimately, Crawford doesn’t seem like a bad guy, he’s been forced to play out of position for most of the year, and has still managed to be reasonably efficient by his standards.  I’m surprise with the lack of quality two guards available that he didn’t end up bringing back a 2nd round pick and an expiring contract, but the good news is I don’t think he opts into his player option at the end of the year, which means his money will come off the books at the end of this year too.  Leaving Portland well under the cap, with room to match any offer for Batum (and somebody in the West will undoubtedly bid him up just to make the Blazers pay out), and sign any key free agent who is crazy enough to risk their career with the Trailblazers training staff.
Key pieces of information, according to Hoopsworld, here are some handpicked free agents in 2012 (Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and Gerald Wallace are mercifully removed for the benefit of the collective psyche of Rip City):
Point Guards:
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns – $11.7 million – Unrestricted
Aaron Brooks, Phoenix Suns – $2.0 million – Restricted ($3.0 million Qualifying Offer)
Goran Dragic, Houston Rockets – $2.1 million – Unrestricted*
Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks – $0.8 million – Unrestricted*
Delonte West, Dallas Mavericks – $1.1 million – Unrestricted
Shooting Guards:
Landry Fields, New York Knicks – $0.8 million – Unrestricted*
C.J. Miles, Utah Jazz – $3.7 million – Unrestricted
Shannon Brown, Phoenix Suns – $3.5 million – Unrestricted
Terrence Williams, Houston Rockets – $2.4 million – Unrestricted*
Jodie Meeks, Philadelphia 76ers – $0.9 million – Unrestricted*
Alonzo Gee, Cleveland Cavaliers – $0.9 million – Unrestricted*
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs – $0.9 million – Unrestricted*
Small Forwards (surprisingly thin on young unrestricted quality SF’s this year – another important reason to lock-in Batum):

Sam Young, Memphis Grizzlies – $0.9 million – Unrestricted*
Anthony Tolliver, Minnesota Timberwolves – $2.1 million – Unrestricted
Dominic McGuire, Golden State Warriors – $0.9 million – Unrestricted

Power Forwards:

Michael Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves – $6.3 million – Restricted ($8.2 million Qualifying Offer – included because I can’t see Minnesota tendering a qualifying offer, making him pretty much fair game)
Kris Humphries, New Jersey Nets – $8.0 million – Unrestricted
Carl Landry, New Orleans Hornets – $8.5 million – Unrestricted
Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks – $2.5 million – Unrestricted
Jordan Hill, Houston Rockets – $2.9 million – Unrestricted*
Ian Mahinmi, Dallas Mavericks – $0.9 million – Unrestricted
Ivan Johnson, Atlanta Hawks – $0.5 million – Unrestricted*

Centers (Hawes is really the only one out there who isn’t restricted who might be worth making a play on):

Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia 76ers – $4.1 million – Unrestricted

And finally – the all important NBA draft. Below are teams most likely to land top picks in the lottery, with their odds of landing a top 3 pick in the lottery.  The players are arranged according to Chad Ford’s latest Top 100 potential draft picks

1. Charlotte (6-35) – 64.3% chance of top 3 pick – #1 Pick – Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
2. Washington (9-32) – 55.8% chance of top 3 pick – #2 Pick – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky)
3. New Orleans (10-33) – 46.9% chance of top 3 pick – #3 Pick – Andre Drummond (UCONN)
4. Toronto (14-29) – 37.8% chance of top 3 pick – #4 Pick – Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
5. Sacramento (14-29) – 29.2% chance of top 3 pick – #5 Pick – Harrison Barnes (UNC)
6. New Jersey (15-29) – 21.5% chance of top 3 pick – #6 Pick – Bradley Beal (Florida)
7. Detroit (16-27) – 15% chance of top 3 pick – #7 Pick – Perry Jones (Baylor)
8. Cleveland (16-25) – 10% chance of top 3 pick – #8 Pick – Jared Sulligner (OSU)
9. Golden State (18-22) – 6% chance of top 3 pick – #9 Pick – Cody Zeller (Indiana)
10. New York (19-24 – note they’re tied for 8th spot in playoffs in the east) – 4% chance – #10 Pick – Jeremy Lamb (UCONN)
11. Portland (20-23) – 2.9% chance – #11 Pick – Tyler Zeller (UNC)
12. Utah (20-22) – 2.5% chance – #12 Pick – Damian Lilliard (Weber State)
13. Phoenix (20-22) – 2.2% chance – #13 Pick – Quincy Miller (Baylor)
14. Minnesota (22-21) – 1.8% chance – #14 Pick – Meyers Leonard (Illinois)

Now let’s make three basic assumptions:

1) Minnesota, Phoenix, Utah, New York, and Cleveland all have a legitimate spot at the 8 spot in their conference and will probably make a run at it, making them likely to move towards the last 5 spots here (or maybe swap with a current playoff team who will fall into those spots).

2) New Jersey needs to win to entice free agents to the possibilities of next season.  Let’s face it, Brooklyn is great, but you’re still going to be the “other” New York team, and the NYC media is ruthless and will be even tougher on the BK Nets than they have been on the NJ incarnation.  They need to convince D-Will that he should even think twice about jumping ship to Dallas, and they have to try to recruit someone to join D-Will, convince Crash Wallace to opt-in to his player option, and pick up another franchise player if they want to fill that shiny new arena.  They could tank and try to bottom out again, but I have to think 12-70 is a little too close in the rearview for them to revisit and I think they have to know they need some kind of positive buzz heading into the Barclay’s Center.

3) Washington might want to start winning some games to show John Wall that a pickup like Nene is an investment in their future and a statement that they’re ready to get serious about basketball (okay, I know I may be reaching here).

4) Sacramento is too dumb to know that they’re supposed to lose the rest of their games.  Mark Jackson has too much pride to completely dump, despite mandates from the Lacobs.

5) Everybody else is in a race to the bottom.

Based on those five assumptions, here’s my best completely unscientific prediction on how these teams finish the season (with their chance of a top 3 pick):

  1. Charlotte – 8-58 – (64.3%)
  2. New Orleans – 15-51- (55.8%)
  3. Washington – 17-49 – (46.9%)
  4. Sacramento 23-43 – (37.8%)
  5. Golden State 24-42 – (29.2%)
  6. Portland 28-38 – (21.5%)
  7. Detroit 30-36 (15%)
  8. New Jersey (Portland owned) 31-35 – (10%)
  9. Cleveland 31-35 – (6%)
  10. Utah 32-34 – (4%)
  11. New York 32-34 – (2.9%)
  12. Phoenix 33-33 – (2.5%)
  13. Minnesota 35-31 – (2.2%)
  14. Utah 35-31 – (1.8%)

Now, let’s go lose some games!

Comments
  1. SteelieP says:

    Enjoyed the article. We had discussed a lot of this and it was nice to see your thoughts “put together”.
    While it’s all a hopeful sign that the Blazers are ready to stop worrying about finishing in the 8th spot and try to really rebuild a team that can compete with the upper eschelon, I’ll be more encouraged if they find a bright, aspiring “Theo” for a GM.

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