Monday, January 17, 2011

The Future of the Blazers by Aubrey Wieber

Trail Blazer fans, like most other fan base, have expectations that change every year. Sure, you have teams like the Lakers, Yankees, and Red Wings who expect to win no matter what, but Portland has never had a consistency anywhere close to that. After the "Jail Blazer" era, the fans didn't expect much, as there were not many fans left. Then, in 2006, Portland drafted Brandon Roy and the team improved by 11 games and finally had some hope. They were shedding their bad boy image and regaining some fans do to the incredible play of their new talent in Roy and Aldridge. In 2007 The Blazers got Greg Oden and the city once again started to unite around the team. Even though Oden didn't play that year, the expectations had risen. The teams budding new stars were rapidly improving and the goal of finishing with a .500 record was on every fans mind. Thanks to a 13 game winning streak, that goal had been achieved. Now buzz started forming around the league about the young team from Portland. Many GM's used optimistic descriptions like "future dynasty" and "the next Spurs" when talking about the Blazers. The next year the expectations were raised, of course, to reaching the playoffs. Savvy drafting by then GM Kevin Pritchard improved the team with even more young talent and the team over achieved with 54 wins and a 4th seed in the playoffs. Their quick exit to the Rockets exposed their lack of experience, but for most fans it was understandable as they were still young and rebuilding. In the 09-10 season, Portland was riddled with injuries and was second only to Golden State in games missed. They still reached the playoffs, but were bounced out by a far superior Suns team.
Going into this season, the expectations were higher than I can remember. Roy was coming off his third consecutive All Star bid, Aldridge had improved, Camby was re-signed, and Oden was going to finally come back and have a productive and healthy season. Obviously things didn't work out that way. The Blazers are now at a cross roads that can define how their success for the next five years at least. With Roy being signed to a max contract they will not be a player in the free agent market until 2014. They are now stuck in the most feared void of either high lottery team or low playoff seed. Their are two ways to get out of the most dreaded situation in the NBA. The first is to make major moves through trade and free agency, but due to the situation with Roy, the is not a possibility. The second is a full on rebuilding stage. This can be hard to do, especially in a small market like Portland, and still sell tickets. I, however, feel that the only way to escape from this Limbo is to evaluate who is untouchable, and scrape the rest for draft picks and expiring contracts.
Aldridge: He is right now Portland's MVP by a very wide margin. It might have taken some time, but he added 20 lbs. and is playing in the post like fans have always wanted. His production has surpassed our wildest expectations. His contract is very favorable to the team and could never bring back his worth in a trade.
Matthews: People all around the league mocked this contract, but his production along with the Roy injury quickly shut down all doubters. He is not and never will be Brandon Roy and probably not someone you will regularly go to for a 4th quarter take over, however he will give you a solid 20 a night and plays far superior defense to Roy. Obviously he has way too much value to be traded.
Camby: Camby is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game (5th best) and is the defensive anchor of the team. His trade value is incredibly high, especially with the lack of dominant centers in the league. As much as I enjoy watching Camby's effect on the team, in the grand scheme it will in no way benefit the team to have Camby retire a blazer in three years. Trade him now while teams don't view him as aging and over paid.
Batum: In virtually every possible Blazer trade Batum is the main target. He is still on a rookie contract and shows nothing but improvement. He is the teams best perimeter defender and holds so many intangibles that Jay Bilas could do a full half hour special on him. The only thing that makes me a little shaky on him is the fear that he will be like Travis Outlaw and never reach his potential. That being said, if you traded him you would get nothing close to his value in return.
Miller: Miller will be traded before the dead line if they can get a younger productive point guard in return. His contract is gold from a GM's prospective and that is a crucial chip that management cannot afford to not use. He is one of Portland's most reliable players, but next year is the last year on his contract and its a team option. Fans need to realize that although is dedication to winning is very charismatic, he is not the point guard of the future and the team needs to capitalize on their assets while they have value.
Fernandez: Rudy is a hard player to trade due to his public temper tantrums and poor second season as Rich Cho found out in the off season. However, he now has friends in Mills and Batum and is playing better. Until they offered unprotected first rounder for him from a lottery team or can use him as a chip in a bigger trade, the Blazer brass will probably hold on to him.
Mills: Patty has shown he is incredibly competent at leading the second unit. His modest numbers are perfectly acceptable for a back up and his recent 4th quarter minutes means McMillan has a ton of trust in him, something few Blazers can say.
Cunningham: Dante has an undeniable knack for offensive rebounding and just all out hustles. He has a reliable mid range shot and plays hard on defense. He possesses many qualities that other teams covet.
Przybilla: He will be traded before the deadline. His value is not at all diminished from injuries or lack of playing time because the value he has is his expiring contract. That is not something Cho is just going to let walk out the door. I would not at all be shocked to see him, Miller, and a bench player packaged for a PG, especially after all the Devin Harris/DJ Augustin rumors.
Babbitt: The last of the great "Pritch-slaps" was tricking David Kahn to take Martell Webster for the 16th pick, which was then used on Babbitt. Right now on ESPN's fantasy ranker Babbitt is 432nd out of 432 players, but that doesn't mean he can't be a part of Portland's future. Obviously if he was taken that high the team liked him and he just needs to get more practice time in before he gets real minutes. Portland can really use someone who can shoot lights out like Babbitt, and with no trade value he will wearing red and black in March.
Johnson: With Mills taking all of Johnson's minutes (and some of Miller's) I expect him to be a throw in for a trade if any team wants him.
I know a lot of fans ask about Roy and possible trade scenarios, but that is just unrealistic. It is very sad, but his career is over. Even with the surgery, it will only possibly help pain temporarily. He is not going to have 2-3 surgeries a year. Even with David Kahn and Bryan Colangelo out there, he is 100% untradable. This is now a chance for Cho to show that he can be a cunning GM and get young talent and draft picks, and it's a time for Blazer fans to show the rest of the league who frequently mocks them for being uneducated that they can stand by their franchise through a rebuilding process and keep the bigger picture in mind.

Aubrey Wieber
Twitter: @aubreywieber

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