A few quick-hit thoughts on the Blazers' draft day moves:
The Blazers accomplished one of their two goals. Going into the draft, there was a feeling the Blazers would try to use Andre Miller’s non-guaranteed contract to get help at either the PG position or in the frontcourt. And in drafting Nolan Smith out of Duke and trading for Raymond Felton, they became much younger at the point. Raymond Felton is a tenacious defender, deft passer and a good scorer (though his scoring numbers – including his career-high 116 threes made last year – were inflated playing for Mike D’Antoni in New York and George Carl in Denver). However, he is a better outside shooter than Miller (33.3% career mark versus Millers under 20% mark), though a worse shooter overall (41% shooter versus 46%).
Nolan Smith is an experienced 4-year guard out of Duke. Like Felton, he is a tenacious defender, but is a streaky shooter (he was a 45% shooter at Duke, including 37% on threes). He is blazing fast, can break down defenses off the dribble and get to the rim. However, he was never a PG until his senior season after Kyrie Erving went down with a toe injury, when he averaged 5 assists a game. So he has the tools to be a PG in the NBA, it remains to be seen if he can become a true PG. The recent success of Ty Lawson and Darren Collison suggests quick, diminutive PG’s can succeed in the NBA; though it is worth nothing they were both PG’s during their college careers.
The frontcourt is still the Blazers’ biggest weakness. The Blazers failed to improve their frontcourt whatsoever today. LaMarcus Aldridge is still the only legitimate frontcourt player the Blazers have. Marcus Camby is old and can no longer protect the rim or rebound like he once could. The Blazers have no other frontcourt players after those two, save for Chris Johnson who is rail-thin and not a viable option for regular rotation minutes.
The Blazers were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league (save for on offense) and without Greg Oden making a miraculous recovery the Blazers will remain both thin on the frontline and a terrible rebounding team. With the lockout looming, the Blazers have zero options for improving the frontcourt.
The impending work stoppage makes the future unclear. As it looks right now, the NBA owners are preparing to lock out the players July 1. Most of the teams are losing money (the Hornets are owned by the other 29 owners currently) and the owners are prepared to wait out the players as long as it takes to get a better deal. The hard-line stance is being driven by the small-market owners (think Milwaukee, Sacramento, Cleveland, Minnesota, Memphis, etc.) who are going to demand the following in any new CBA:
1) A move to a hard cap; 2) a limit on the amount and length of contracts along with the elimination of fully-guaranteed contracts; 3) some sort of “franchise tag” similar to the NFL model to prevent LeBron James situations from happening to the Cleveland’s of the NBA. This will probably include some adaptation of the current Bird Rights. 5) A new revenue-sharing model; and 6) an amnesty clause allowing teams to wipe one contract off their salary cap (read, Brandon Roy); they will still have to pay the contract, but it will not count against a team’s cap figure.
Without knowing what the conditions of the new salary cap (amount, hard or soft) and the status of current free agents (i.e. restricted free agency could be done away with altogether), it is impossible to project what the Blazers’ free agent options will be for improving the frontcourt.
Overall, I give the Blazers’ draft a B- … so far. There is no way to predict how these moves will work out. Larry Millar and Chad Buchanan could have hit home runs with acquiring Felton and Smith, we just will not know for a few years.The biggest issue I have seen with the vast majority of Blazer fans is they vastly overrate this team. That is to say, Blazer fans think the Blazers are several years closer to contending for a title than they actually are. The reason for this, I think, comes from Brandon Roy’s performance in Game 4 of the Dallas series. His 18 point fourth quarter, single handedly winning the game for the Blazers, tricked Blazer fans into thinking “He’s back!” In reality, he is very likely not back. No one, not even he, knows how his knees are going to hold up over the course of a full season.
What Blazer fans fail to realize (or possibly do not want to admit) is how many years back the knee injuries to Roy and Oden set the Blazers. Roy and Oden were supposed to be franchise players, the Blazers' very own modern-day version of Kobe and Shaq (just infinitely more likable). Instead neither of them are franchise players and likely never will be.**
**In Roy's case he was a franchise player. However his knee injuries have made it unlikely he will ever return to the same level. Both Roy and Oden showed us their vast potential before their bodies betrayed them.
My biggest fear of this trade is if the Blazers do not make the Conference Finals this year the fans will judge it too harshly for failing to put the Blazers over the top. The correct way to view this trade is as merely one move towards the goal of being contenders in the Western Conference. The Blazers still need a massive amount of frontcourt help and until they get it this team will not be ready to compete for a title anytime soon.
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