Summing Up the Trade Deadline

After six-digit page views in the last two days plus multiple posts and fanposts with God-knows-how-many comments (many impassioned and questioning) it's time to sort out the trade deadline doings, box them up, and put them away in the closet until next year...or at least until summer.

For those who are sick of all this talk, consider this the end of it for now.  We're placing a moratorium on any trade proposals for the next two weeks, even in the sidebar.  And I hope after that we'll all be concentrating on the playoff run more than the summer.  It's time to give it a rest. 

But before we do I think we need an explanation for this Ruffin-Tumble week.  After thinking for a while, talking to some people, and crunching some numbers I hope I have some helpful perspective.  After all, that's why we get paid the big buc...oh wait, that's Truehoop.  What I meant was that's why we get all the pretty gir...no.  I guess that would be GoldenStateofMind.  Well, that's why TominHawaii sends us big, mushy love notes and macadamia nuts, OK?

I think it's become apparent to most observers that this team is good, but not yet ready.  The record is going to be fine.  The Blazers will almost certainly make the playoffs this year.  The guys on this team are as talented and likeable as they ever were.  But there are holes here.  Defense is a major one, somewhat in terms of individual defenders but especially with regards to team defense and in-your-face, take-charge, take-this-game toughness.  It's just not there, nor is the defensive production.  The Blazers lack a consistent, "pop-type" scorer outside of Brandon Roy.  Lamarcus Aldridge produces points but he doesn't punish with his offense.  Oden isn't there yet and may not be for a while.  Outlaw and Rudy aren't consistent.  Bayless' overall game isn't ready for prime-time, let alone playoff time.  There's a lot of "someday" there but the now is shaky.  What's more, it's hard to develop that "someday" without more solid, veteran leadership to guide the way.

The Blazers have done well so far, but it's reasonable to assume they're going to have a hard fight down the stretch.  It's also pretty much guaranteed that when they make the playoffs whatever opponent they face is going to steal their cute little heart-shaped cookies, crush them into powder, stuff them down their collective shorts, and give the Blazers a vicious, crumb-filled wedgy of embarrassment.

You know this. I know this.  We can assume that Kevin Pritchard knows this too.  If the chemistry and talent were right most of these problems could be addressed by a trade.  Many were suggested in the past week.  Why didn't they happen?  How can you see those needs, be this tantalizingly close to addressing them, and not pull the trigger?

Unlike some folks, I do not think this comes from a lack of perception or courage on management's part.  We haven't seen anything so far to indicate that.  Besides provocative and personal explanations are seldom the right ones.

The most basic reason we didn't see a deal is probably that nothing suitable was offered.  I'm sure we could have made a trade that helped this year, but it's apparent that Kevin Pritchard's definition of suitable goes beyond that. 

The criteria that have been stated or implied are these:

  • Addresses a need
  • Doesn't disrupt the current chemistry
  • Doesn't mortgage the future financially out of proportion to the benefit achieved
  • Doesn't cost us talent that we suspect will be key later on

As much as I want to take the next step early, looking at that list I'm hard pressed to argue with any of it.  In fact I support it to the letter.

There were several players rumored to be available who could fulfill the need part.  The sticking point no doubt came with the latter three criteria.

Vince Carter needs to score to flourish.  His contract also gets awful in the next couple years.  Plus he's already in his 30's.  This brings up chemistry and financial issues.

Richard Jefferson also has a hefty contract and there's some question whether he'd address our need having been injured and (if he were traded) playing for his third team in the last year.

John Salmons and Brad Miller would have helped but there's little room for Miller to play and Salmons plays his best as the #1 option (and gets cranky otherwise).

I believe there were other players speculated on that could have fulfilled at least the first three criteria.  Caron Butler might have been one, Gerald Wallace another.  Chris Bosh would have been a no-brainer.  But there's no evidence that any of these were offered at a reasonable price (or at all).  My hunch is the Blazers were invested in protecting not only their Big Three but Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, and Nicolas Batum as well.  And rightly so.  Even if Butler, Wallace, or someone similar was under discussion, once those young names were off the table the phones probably went dead.

Some trades were unsuitable.  Some suitable trades weren't doable.  If rumors can be believed we seemed to get into an in-between situation with New Jersey where we said to them, "We'll overlook the drawbacks of taking Carter on our end if you make a deal that knocks our socks off."  Apparently no footwear was moved. 

I don't think the explanation needs to get any more complicated than that.  These kind of deals would have been nearly unprecedented in the first place.  They were always a long shot.  Seeming so close doesn't improve the odds.  Missing the lottery by just one number on each ball is still missing the lottery.  That will happen the vast majority of the time.

A second explanation which has been offered for our lack of moves is that our trading assets, even Raef LaFrentz's Expiring Contract (which effectively disappeared yesterday at noon), will still be powerful this summer while the economic situation will still be weak for many teams.  Obviously that's a calculated risk.  The benefit from Raef's contract maxes out at around $7 million as things stand.  It was worth $12 million yesterday.  On paper that's a significant loss in value.  If the Blazers can appeal and get Darius Miles' contract back off the books (an unprecedented step, but then again the contract going back on was unprecedented as well) then full value is achieved.  If the league economy does worsen then more value could possibly be achieved.  But the explanation doesn't have to be entirely flimsy even if neither of those things happen.  It depends on the player you want, who has him, and what they need.

An example:  One player not mentioned above is Chicago's Luol Deng.  Deng is the right age and would appear to have a nice skill set to fit in with the Blazers.  He's been underperforming with Chicago and his contract is long.  That's an issue for the Bulls if they're disappointed with him but not for the Blazers if they're encouraged.  Deng is also a Base Year Compensation player this year.  The Bulls know enough of his value that they're not going to give him away solo.  They're going to make you take on another contract, such as the oft-mentioned Kirk Hinrich's, to get him.  I wrestled with the trade machine for hours trying to come up with a reasonable way to make that work.  I was twisting contracts into pretzels, dumping free players on the Grizzlies, painting Super Trout capes on Travis so the Bulls would like him more...nothing worked.  There was simply no way to do that deal now even with the RLEC in its full glory.

Yet lo and behold, the Bulls pick up John Salmons, who has many of the same qualities as Deng and plays the same position but comes at a much cheaper price.  And Deng's BYC status disappears on July 1st as the new fiscal year begins.  After that date Deng's and Hinrich's contracts total a cool $19 million.  The Blazers won't have that kind of contractual clout in disposable players alone.  But throw in that $7 million in cap space and guess what?  Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, and a qualifying-offered Channing Frye Martell Webster make the match.  Should the Blazers need to sweeten the deal with their own draftee or someone else's acquired via that Ruffin trade exception they can do so.  In this case $7 million this summer IS actually worth more than $12 million was yesterday.

That's not to say every situation conforms to this mold, but that one does and there may be others.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that if a clear championship move--or even a clear accelerating-towards-a-championship-and-sticking-there move--had been there yesterday it would have been made.  The lack of movement almost certainly signifies that such a move wasn't plausible.  At the least it signifies that the Blazer brass thought the odds of such a move being available in the summer were sufficiently high enough to cause them to stand pat for now.

I cannot tell you if that was the correct assessment, nor if not making a major deal was the right move.  History will show.  Championships have been lost through inaction as well as action, and that's a worry.  On the other hand this team is still in an embryonic state.  It has a solid decade of chances, as currently constructed.  There's plenty of time left.

I feel pretty confident in saying a move is needed before the Blazers grow into greatness.  I'd also bet you a box of macadamia nuts that we're going to see movement this summer.  As I've said before repeatedly, this batch of players and contracts have been set up for exactly this purpose.  I don't think the Blazers will stand pat forever.  I don't think more draft-day wizardry will provide what the team needs right now either.  Those who advocate for a significant veteran acquisition are probably going to get their wish.  But as the Hornets and Bucks (among others) can tell you, it's important to acquire the right guy because buyer's remorse is painful, especially at 14,000,000 untradeable dollars per year. 

Until proven differently, I'm going to assume that this what management is working on.

Had we gotten our mitts on Vince Carter, John Salmons, or Richard Jefferson I would be just as excited as anyone else to see how things turned out.  I would be looking forward to more wins and easier wins down the stretch this year and at least the possibility of advancing to the second round of the playoffs.  At the same time a voice in the back of my mind would be saying, "I guess there weren't any better deals available. And I hope this works out OK, because we're pretty much done now."  It would be a good feeling, but not the best feeling, let alone the most assured and confident.  I'm willing to ride out the last couple months of this year with what we've got, knowing that it's pretty good even in this unfinished state, in order for a chance at that best, most assured feeling later on.  Not too much later on at this point, I hope.  We'll have to see.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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