Where Does Portland Go From Here?
Portland making moves at the 2012 NBA trade deadline was not a surprise. The fact that they, in one fell swoop, completely blew up the team in such an epic way? Not many saw that coming. Now it’s time to decide where the Trail Blazers go from here.
The two trades Portland did make fit their plan to amass as many draft picks in the 2012 NBA Draft and as much cap space for 2012 free agency as possible. By trading Gerald Wallace, they removed any likelihood his $9.5 million Player Option would be exercised and they returned a lottery pick from the New Jersey Nets that, right now, would be the sixth overall pick. Mehmet Okur may never play for Portland and they are already talking buyout with Shawne Williams in an effort to reduce his 2012-13 cap hit – currently $3.14 million – as much as possible.
Trading Marcus Camby only netted them an additional second-round pick. Neither Hasheem Thabeet nor Jonny Flynn figure to be part of the future, though they will be given a shot to get some minutes the rest of the way this season.
The team made news for the players it didn’t move, namely Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford. Not trading Felton shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s not part of the future, has little trade value and, as an ending deal, helps them with their quest for cap space. While Crawford does have a Player Option for $5.23 million, he is very likely to decline that option. Wallace was less likely, so the Blazers made moving him their focus.
Portland had to waive two players for the two trades to be successful, so the waiving of forward Chris Johnson and former number one pick center Greg Oden weren’t a surprise. The Oden decision made news, but it was expected. By waiving him, the Blazers cut the last tenuous thread of hope Oden would ever return to the team because they no longer hold his Bird Rights.
Firing head coach Nate McMillan surprised people not necessarily because it happened, but because it happened at the same time the two veterans were traded and Oden was waived. All of that put together, all of it happening at once, made it clear the rest of this season probably won’t be successful. With all due respect to new interim head coach Kaleb Canales (who won his first game in Chicago!), the rest of this season is not about winning games.
The players are not going to mail it in, even if management has. The rest of these games now become free agent auditions for Felton, Crawford, Thabeet and Flynn. Their next contract – or if they get one at all – depends on how they perform in this situation. At the same time, the Blazers will want to see what rookie Nolan Smith and second-year forward Luke Babbitt can bring to the team. Unfortunately, despite this being a perfect time to really see what second-year guard Elliot Williams can give, he’s likely to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews – the veterans who will be around next season – will be expected to lead.
After the season is over, the Blazers will begin the search a new for a general manager and a head coach. Canales may be a candidate – that remains to be seen – but it’s really too early to throw out a list of possible names. The ideal coach will be one who is flexible enough to play to the strengths of the roster while still emphasizing the need for defense. An “old school” type of coach probably isn’t a good fit.
The draft will be the next order of business. If they do indeed get New Jersey’s pick, the Blazers will have a couple choices. They could see if they could package the two picks to move up higher, or they could just go with the best player available given their needs at center, point guard, and perhaps on the wing. While this is a deep draft, the best players at the top are power forwards and small forwards, two positions the Blazers seem to have covered. That doesn’t mean they won’t take one of the studs – Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, Jared Sullinger, Anthony Davis – but they may only do so once. With two top picks they can go best available with one and then fill a need with the other.
Next up will be free agency. Should the Blazers successfully reduce Williams’ cap hit by at least $1 million and if Crawford declines his option as expected, the Blazers will have only $29.26 million on the books for next summer. Assuming they do receive two lottery picks, that could add about $8 million or so (more if they win in the Draft Lottery with their own pick, less if New Jersey wins and Portland doesn’t get the pick this year) to their cap figure, leaving the Blazers roughly $20 million to spend in free agency.
Batum will get a large chunk of that money, perhaps $8 million or so. As a restricted free agent he may even get a $10 million offer, which the Blazers will have to decide to match or not. Should they choose a player like Barnes or Kidd-Gilchrist, an offer like that could give them pause. Then again, they might match it anyway.
At this point the Blazers could have 12 players under contract (eight veterans including Batum, plus four draft picks) and still have $10 million or more to use either to buy a free agent or absorb a larger contract in trade. This is likely how they will look for a starting point guard. Deron Williams is probably outside of the realm of possibilities, but the Blazers could be interested in players like Steve Nash, Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich (2012 free agent list). Then they can fill out the roster with another veteran big man, perhaps retaining center Joel Przybilla, who has played solid ball since signing with the team a few weeks ago.
This is a sad position for the Blazers to be in considering the optimism of December, but as low as things look now, this rebuilding phase could be very short. Adding the right coach and the right draft picks around a core of Aldridge and Batum could result in only a one-year visit to the lottery and a return to the playoffs in 2013. Whether they get there that quickly depends on a lot of things – such as a cohesive management plan – but the path is there.
Did the Blazers put themselves in a good position to rebound in 2012-13? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 8pm Eastern.