I've missed this place for the last six weeks. Dave was kind enough to unilaterally lift my banishment a couple of days early, apparently in order to give me a chance to comment on Bayless' trade. I appreciate the gesture.
Follow me across the jump for my thoughts on Bayless' departure to gumbo-land.
Bayless Trade: Short Term Sense, Long Term Risk:
Folks may, or may not, be surprised by my reaction to the trade. I think it will depend on how closely you have followed the arguments I have been trying to make. I got involved in the "PG Wars" around here primarlly for two reasons: 1) I thought the team needed better perimeter defense, and 2) given the evolving role of PGs in the league, I thought we needed a PG who was more of a threat to score, in order to keep teams from doubling Roy with impunity.
As much as I appreciated Blake's determination and competitiveness, and as much as I could see Sergio's flair with the ball, I saw both as inadequate defensively and too limited on offense. Bayless came along in the summer of 2008, and clearly offered a distinct alternative. He could score, as he clearly demonstrated in that first SL. He had both greater strength and greater speed than either Steve or Sergio. On defense, that strength and speed seemed to suggest that Bayless could become a quality defender who would be capable of putting pressure on the ball.
There has always been 3 questions with Bayless: 1) would his physical abilities translate into quality defense? I think the jury is still out on this question. I thought Bayless did a pretty decent job on Nash and Dragic during the Phoenix series. He continues to foul a bit too much, and he continues to have trouble fighting through screens. Some of his problems seem to be related to his compact frame and relatively short limbs, but most seems correctable with greater experience. 2) would he be able to shoot well enough to help spread the floor for Roy? Bayless completely retooled his shot during his rookie season, and it took some time for him to regain the accuracy he had shown in HS and at UA. I think the answer here has been a qualified "Yes." Bayless shot 38% after the break last year and shot 36% during pre-season. Given his work ethic, I think he will continue to improve.
The third question about Bayless has been the source of endless debate, 3) could Bayless become enough of a PG to work effectively next to Roy? I think the answer here should be obvious to everybody: We will never know, because it was never tried. Bayless was endlessly criticized by those who think the team needs a "true PG" next to Roy. IMO, these criticism missed the point. The question was whether or not the offense could function effectively with Bayless and a SG with playmaking abilities (Roy, Rudy, Mathews)?
Bayless has never been a sure bet. He is trying to make a transition to the most difficult position on the floor after playing out of position for his one year of college. He is only 22, and he has been given precious few minutes at PG in his first two years in the league. Repeatedly, I put the odds of him becoming a good enough distributor to be a potential match next to Roy at 60-65%.
Poor Fit with Whom?
Many commentators have discussed Bayless' supposed "poor fit" with the team. I would argue that Bayless had a decent chance to develop into a very good fit with the team's other players. I don't think the poor fit was with his teammates; I think the poor fit was with the coach. Nate has a very traditional, and IMO, very narrow, view of how the PG position is supposed to be played. I simply think Nate doesn't understand how to develop, or use, a young player with Bayless' skill set. I would argue that Bayless has a very good chance to develop into a "Super Jason Terry" type of player, and even a decent chance of developing into a Billups type scoring PG.
I think it is extremely telling that the team that traded for Bayless, has Monte Williams, as its coach. Next to Nate and KP, Monte is probably the guy who has had the closest view of Bayless. He obviously sees potential; he has literally staked much of his future as an NBA coach on this trade. If Bayless comes in and is a bust, Monte, who is in a very precarious position to begin with, is likely to get much of the blame.
Short Term Sense
I think trading Bayless makes sense in the short term: The Blazers reap immediate financial benefits. They create space to keep Rudy's new best friend Patty Mills. They relieve some of the log jam in the backcourt. In return for Bayless, they get a more flexible trade chip or a future player who will come in on a cheap rookie contract. They get a trade exception that increases their flexibility to make additional trades before the deadline. Above all, they give Nate an opportunity to develop a young player, Armon Johnson, who is probably as a close to a mirror image of how Nate played the position as you are likely to find. I do find it ironic to hear Nate talk about using a Roy/Mathews backcourt when he was never willing to give a Roy/Bayless a fair chance.
Long Term Risk
Oh well, what is done is done. As I said above, I think this trade makes a lot of sense in the short term. It probably makes even more sense from Rich Cho's perspective. Even if Cho thought Bayless had tons of potential, if he shared my assessment that Nate was not the coach to develop that potential, it probably made sense to trade him rather than have him sit on the bench and never get a chance while his trade value stagnated.
I do not however, think that this trade merits celebration by the "Baylo-skeptic" crowd here on BE. Ask yourself a question, who do you trust more as evaluators of PG potential, Kevin Pritchard and Monty Williams, or Rich Cho and Nate McMillan? I know I would be very reluctant to choose, and if you put a gun to my head, given Nate's track record and Rich's lack of track record, my money would be on KP and Monty.
I see four long term risks associated with this trade:
1) Will Armon Johnson learn how to shoot the NBA 3? For all of you out there who complain about what a bad fit Miller is because he can't hit a spot up 3, you better hope that Armon learns how to shoot. It was one thing to expect Bayless, who had a history of being a good shooter in HS and at UA (40%), to get better; it is far more dicey to expect AJ, who shot 25% from 3 last season at Nevada, to adjust to the NBA 3. I hope he can, but there are no guarantees.
2) What happens with Rudy? In a way, trading Bayless was about choosing Rudy over Bayless. It makes sense in the short term, because the team desperately needs Rudy's 3 point shooting. But Rudy's long term future or long term value as a trade asset is extremely tenuous. If Rudy decides to head back to Spain after this season, the team is suddenly very thin at back-up 2. Because Bayless could play both the 1 and the 2, he provided a lot of flexibility. That flexibility is now gone until such time as EW shows he is ready to contribute.
3) What can Cho do with the pick and the trade exception? If Cho can use the pick and expiring contracts or other assets to land a significant player, then this move may look like gold down the road. On the other hand, one injury to a backcourt player, and this trade may not look so good. This trade can only be evaluated after all the dust settles.
4) What happens if Bayless "blows up" in NO? I think a mid first-round pick was fair value for Bayless based on what he has produced so far, but ultimately, the wisdom of this trade depends on your assessment of Bayless' talent. If you think he is an under-sized SG in a PG's body or a mediocre, shoot first PG, as so many around here have labelled him, then you probably aren't crying in your beer over this trade. If on the other hand, you suspect that KP knew what he was doing when he drafted the kid, and that Monty Williams might know something in urging NO to trade for him, this trade has a lot of potential for regret.
The Bottom Line
The jury is out on this trade, and remains out on Jerryd Bayless, as a player. I think he showed enough promise to have earned one more year to prove himself. Events conspired in such a way that he never really got much of a chance in Portland. In his first two years he was buried behind more experienced players: Steve and Sergio, in year 1; Andre and Steve, in year 2. Above all, he was never really trusted by his coach, because his skill set and experience never matched Nate's vision of the position.
I'm sorry we never really got a chance to see what a Roy/Bayless backcourt might have looked like. It is going to be very interesting to see how effective Roy/Mathews will become.
I have high hopes for Armon. I started out wanting solid PG defense and wanting a PG who could both spot up and penetrate. If Armon proves to be that guy, nobody will be happier than me.
I wish Jerryd Bayless well. I'm glad he is going to be playing for a coach who believes in him. I have never really had a second team to root for in my 40 years as a fan. Count me as a new member of the Hive. The jury is still very much out on JB. I don't necessarily want him to come back and kick our behinds in the RG over the next decade, but I have to confess, I may not be able to repress a bit of a smile, if he does.
Its great to be back, and its a great day to be a Blazer fan.