Trade Analysis: Charlotte's Gerald Wallace to the Portland Trail Blazers for Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, and First Round Picks

The day after is upon us.  The Trail Blazers finally made their move, one expected in Blazerland for two and a half seasons now.  The particulars of the trade, just in case you don't know them:

Trail Blazers Get:  

  • F Gerald Wallace  28 years old, 6'7", 220 lbs 15.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.5 spg in 39.0 mpg

Charlotte Bobcats Get:

  • C Joel Przybilla 31 years old, 7'1", 245 lbs, 1.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg in 14.4 mpg
  • F Dante Cunningham  23 years old, 6'8", 230 lbs, 5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg in in 19.8 mpg
  • C Sean Marks  35 years old, 6'10", 250 lbs, 1.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg in 7.2 mpg
  • A 2011 first-round pick belonging originally to the New Orleans Hornets
  • A 2013 first-round pick belonging to the Portland Trail Blazers

The underlying motive for the Bobcats seems clear:  future picks and saving money.  Pryzbilla's contract expires at the end of this season. Cunningham's salary is infinitesimal.  Marks is small as well and he will be waived.  Wallace doesn't make a fortune compared to his potential:  $10.5 million per year this year, next, and a third year at his option for the same amount.  With this move Charlotte clears out the final two years of that obligation, leaving themselves on the hook for zero dollars after the season.

The Trail Blazers' motive seems similarly clear.  They've acquired a potential major talent for spare parts and future picks.  Wallace is a former All-Star hamstrung but a combination of a fractured team and injuries.  When he's on his game he can dominate single-handedly in a way that Cunningham, Marks, and Przybilla could only dream of.  He's a good defender, a strong body, an excellent defensive rebounder.  All of those attributes fit Portland's needs to a "T", as anyone who's watched opponents shoot 50%, grab offensive rebounds, and throw elbows at skinny Portland wings this year can attest.  Wallace changes the look of this team immediately.

Esoteric nuances permeate this move as well.  First, a dominating defensive rebounder at the forward spot helps the Blazers endure their lack of healthy centers.  Whether it's as a true small forward or as a power forward in a small lineup, Wallace allows Portland to get away with LaMarcus Aldridge shading towards the five spot.  Second, Wallace provides a fail-safe in case Brandon Roy can't come back healthy.  Wallace has scored points aplenty in his recent past.  He's also a penetrator, covering the jump-shot-itis that's an inevitable result of Roy being absent or unable to get past his man to drive.  Wallace doesn't necessarily cost the Blazers if Roy is at full-strength, though.  Roy's game appears to be drifting towards the perimeter anyway.  His conflict, if any, won't be with Roy but with point guard Andre Miller, also a natural driver and strong body.  But Miller should be mollified by the opportunity to loft even more devastating alley-oop passes, as Wallace can finish with the best of them.

The Blazers are committing to a couple of ideals in acquiring Wallace.  He's most effective on the run.  He lacks the three-point shooting present in recent vintage Portland small forwards.  His game isn't subtle.  There's a reason they call him "crash".  He prospers when he moves vertically up and down the court.  Increased rebounding and defense should open up more opportunities.  It's likely Portland fans will see more of Coach Nate McMillan frantically waving his charges up the court after rebounds after this.  The Blazers have also committed to winning in the short term.  Wallace isn't old but he's been hurt.  He's not a 10-year prospect for this team.  He may not even be re-signed after his current contract expires.  Either way, Portland is pledging to go for it as best they can with their current makeup (give or take) over the next few years.  Just as important as the players who moved today are the players who didn't in this, or any other, trade.  Marcus Camby stayed.  Greg Oden stayed.  Andre Miller, though ostensibly offered for Devin Harris, also stayed.  Nothing precludes these players from being moved later but it seems clear that the Blazers aren't abandoning big men, veterans, or hope that they can get healthy and challenge.  They weren't dumping salaries or players.  They added talent, retained more, and took on extra salary for a purpose:  to win.

A couple odds and ends:

  1. Marks could be released by the Bobcats.  Flip a coin as to whether the Blazers would like him back.  Their only center with a prayer of playing right now is Camby.  Portland may be satisfied with a smaller lineup until he returns.  
  2. There's no indication yet that Przybilla will be waived by the Bobcats.  If he were, one would expect the Blazers to be interested in re-signing him to a minimum contract.
  3. There's little doubt that LaMarcus Aldridge's sterling play, particularly rebounding, over the last month contributed to this deal.  Not only has his emergence given the Blazers hope they can prosper through their litany of injuries, his increased rebounding total and facility being the big man in the small lineup has made them comfortable trading every healthy big man on the roster besides him.
  4. Wallace is a natural small forward.  He'll be playing large amounts of power forward on a smaller, faster team so this shouldn't create a huge minutes crunch.  However his arrival and good play would free the Blazers to consider options for Nicolas Batum were they inclined to do so.  At this point they don't seem at all inclined, but it never hurts to have options.
  5. The Blazers can now furnish a nasty defensive featuring Wallace, Batum, and Wesley Matthews as the core.  Aldridge is not half bad this year either.  Opposing wings are never going to get a rest against the Blazers.  One shudders to think what would happen if Camby or Greg Oden ever came back at near full strength.
  6. The Blazers retained all of their three-point shooting in this deal, such as it is.  That's important to their system.

We'd be remiss in failing to mention the players and picks Portland is losing in this deal.  We close with some memories.

The Picks

New Orleans' 2011 pick at this point would rank 21st in the draft.  With six teams bunched around the 25 losses that the Hornets currently hold, there is some risk of it becoming a lottery pick. But as Ben Golliver relayed earlier, it's protected top-7 this year and top-8 through 2014 so there's zero chance of the Blazers missing out on a spectacular opportunity.

The 2013 Portland pick is interesting.  Only Roy, Aldridge, Matthews, and a handful of youngsters are under contract for that season.  That will be the year Portland either commits to this core for the long haul or starts over.  Should they start over and end up in the lottery the pick is top-12 protected through 2015 and goes unprotected in 2016.  If the Blazers stink that badly for that long they're in trouble anyway.

In short, the picks are a non-issue. 

Joel Przybilla

Blazer fans should remember that Przybilla was the first guy to believe in this organization after the infamous "Jail Blazer" years and put his contract where his mouth was.  His career was on the skids coming out of Atlanta.  John Nash and the Trail Blazers gave him a chance and he dropped weight, committed, and transformed himself into a viable player.  In return for that chance Przybilla re-signed with the Blazers when his deal came up, making this his home.  He didn't go to the Spurs or then-dominant Pistons, both of whom coveted him and would have given their right arms to have him instead of, say, Nazr Mohammed.  He didn't go to the Timberwolves or Bucks, closer to his family.  He stayed in Portland.  There was a time when Theo Ratliff looked like the Next Big Thing around these parts, blocking shots and changing games with his defense.  Then Ratliff got injured, leaving Przybilla alone to fill the gap.  He not only filled it, he obliterated it.  Joel provided years of rebounding, shot-blocking, and interior defense when nobody else on this team could.  He was the backbone of the defense and a quietly vital organ for this franchise.  Perhaps his most appreciated attribute has been his toughness.  Joel would lay lumber and take guff from nobody.  Turning Tyson Chandler into a mewling ninny was at one point a bi-annual ritual.  His stare-downs are legendary.  Przybilla was a throwback to the days when you were supposed to defend your turf...and everything was your turf.  In Joel's absence plenty of Blazers will need to learn to stand up for themselves.  This was the right trade not only because of Joel's contract and age but because his contributions this year were more muted due to his injuries.  But the final moments and need to move him don't dim his legacy for this team.

Dante Cunningham

I've always been a not-so-closet Cunningham fan.  His energy stands out.  When he gets rolling he has a swagger that's near-unique on this squad.  He doesn't strut but his normal walk speaks volumes.  He can be a demon chasing the rebound.  His elbow jumper is fantastic.  He's a heck of a leaper.  And I don't see how anybody can sit still when he's on the court.  He shows you up by moving faster, harder, and better than you.  He's like a blue collar guy with serious hops and a shot.  The issue for Cunningham has always been position.  He's too small to play as a true power forward and too slow laterally to defend opposing small forwards.  Several times this year he was a square peg in a round hole.  But he was a fun peg to watch nevertheless.  That energy won't be replaced easily.

Sean Marks

How can you not like a guy who knows he's going to play two minutes in a game but gives his all anyway.  You never felt Marks was dogging it for an instant on the court.  Whether hitting a three (!) or grabbing a rebound, he was a nice guy to have around.

Leave your wrapping-up reflections on this trade below if you wish.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  Want to make sure this trade turns out well for the Blazers?  Build karma by sending a kid who otherwise wouldn't be able to go to a Blazer game to the April 1st contest versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Details on Blazersedge Night 2010-11, the 500 kids we're sending, and how you can help here.

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