Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The Portland Trail Blazers started off the 2011-12 season looking like world beaters. They won seven of their first nine games, knocking off the 76ers, Nuggets, Thunder, Lakers and Clippers in the process, they were starting to push the pace, and off-season additions Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Gerald Wallace were all fitting into their new roles seamlessly. Immediately after that 7-2 start the Blazers lost three games in a row and since then the team hasn’t been any higher than four games over .500. A day after the trade deadline, the Blazers sit with a 20-23 record, four games out of the playoff picture and they have a completely different lockerroom than the one they started the season with.
After the team had clearly quit on head coach Nate McMillan, the Blazers front office, which doesn’t consist of a general manager, decided to start their firesale. Ironically, the Blazers ended up holding onto the two players that were rumored to be causing the majority of the turmoil – Felton and Crawford – but they did well to find new homes for Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby, two players that seem to be positive lockerroom presences and likely got caught up in the middle of whatever conflict was going on in Portland.
The Blazers got the biggest steal of the day when they dealt Wallace to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a first round pick. This trade was a clear indication that Portland intends to tank the rest of the season as Okur and Williams are both out with back and foot injuries. The deal gives the Blazers nearly $14 million in expiring contracts and New Jersey foolishly sent them a first round pick that was only top-three protected. With the Nets likely to finish in the 5-10 pick range, the Blazers started their rebuilding process out on the right note by creating $14 in cap space for this summer while securing a top pick in the most loaded draft in recent memory.
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Portland followed that up by dealing Marcus Camby, who has an expiring contract, for two younger players with expiring contracts. This deal was a bit puzzling considering the Blazers could have spent more time shopping Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford as they could have brought back more value but they got back some flexible pieces in Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet (to make room for these two, Portland officially waived Greg Oden which was surreal to see at first). Flynn hasn’t shown a drop of potential during his rare stints on the floor so the Blazers would be best off letting him walk at the end of the year. Thabeet, on the other hand, is still seven-foot-three and size is at a premium in the NBA, even if that size is accompanied by an incompetent basketball player. I think a $6 million flier on Thabeet next season isn’t so bad, especially since Portland could get something back for him because of his expiring contract if things don’t work out.
At the end of the day Portland cleared out what could turn out to be $20 million in cap space and securing what will likely be two top 10 picks (the other top 10 pick would be Portland’s assuming the tank successfully), which was a pretty darn good turnaround for a team that seemingly decided to rebuild on deadline day. The trades mean the only players left on the books for the Blazers next season are LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith. Their five salaries add up to just $24,245,440. Add in two other deals around $5 million, assuming the Blazers sign both of their lottery picks, and that puts them on the books for around $34 million. That leaves Portland plenty of room to re-sign small forward Nicolas Batum, whom the franchises covets. Even with a large extension for Batum the Blazers can also make a strong push for someone in free agency like Ray Allen or, ironically, Deron Williams. Portland signing Williams would be ironic because the trade that cleared cap space to make the signing possible was made by the Nets in attempt to get Williams to stay in New Jersey.
Looking ahead, the Blazers seem to have done an excellent job with their spur of the moment rebuilding process.
But then there’s the bad news.
Portland has found a way to force both Kevin Pritchard (plus Rich Cho) and Nate McMillan out over the past couple of years, which is disappointing considering both men were very good at their jobs. It’s tough to see McMillan go but it was clear that he had lost the lockerroom. Whether or not that is his fault or a certain headcase or two will never come into light but if I had to take a guess, I’d put money on the players being in the wrong.
It’s nice to see Kaleb Canales, who has worked his way all the way up the ladder from college ranks to the pros, get his shot at running an NBA team. Unfortunately, he’s stuck with a team that is better off losing every game they play that has two players that have already ruined the lockerroom. But a chance is a chance and I hope Canales does enough to earn himself a permanent role for next season when the Blazers should have a better chance at competing.
At the end of the day, I guess what Portland decided to do (commit to a rebuild and fire their coach) is better than letting the players run the asylum like the Knicks are doing. McMillan is a darn good coach and much like the Blazers’ decision to move Camby to a playoff contender, I think they let him off the hook by firing him and it won’t take long before McMillan is back on the sidelines for another NBA team.