Nobody watching the Portland Trail Blazers' play in recent weeks could doubt that the Blazers would be active at this year's NBA trade deadline. They assembled this team with the goal of making a decent run this season while maintaining their core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and presumably Wesley Matthews for the future. The players surrounding those three had identical profiles: talented veterans with expiring (or at least the potential for expiring) contracts. When the team started to fall apart at the seams the "decent run" part of the equation disintegrated. Now the only rationale for retaining those players was the cap space their contracts might provide during the summer. If the Blazers could mine equivalent or greater talent at the trade deadline they had no incentive to retain them until the end of the season. Meanwhile other teams would be interested in Portland's players for the same reason that the Blazers were initially: to bolster playoff chances (or in New Jersey's case to bolster the chances of filling a new arena). This is a recipe for movement.
As anticipated, the tectonic plates shifted under the Rose City today with Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby both exiting for a combination of draft picks, young players, and guys who will never wear the uniform. The curious part of that story is that among the four players on the block, Camby and Wallace were the bottom two. Neither had perfect seasons but both were contributing for the Blazers. The guys everybody thought would go--Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford--are still here. Obviously the offers weren't good enough to facilitate their departure. But that leaves the team in an odd situation.
Normally teams around whom rumors have swirled galvanize after the trade deadline passes. Everybody's safe. This is your team. Play tends to settle, rifts tend to heal, teams focus on the stretch run. That's not likely to happen here.
Both Crawford and Felton know that they were on the trading block. The Blazers kept Crawford from playing in Wednesday night's Knicks game in anticipation of a possible move. Any team that played last night heard an announcement over the public address system that Felton was available in a blue-light special on Aisle 3. Nobody bit on either. This is the NBA equivalent of dumping your live-in girlfriend via text, going out on a date with someone else, then coming back home the next morning for breakfast saying, "Well, that didn't work out." Guess what, Don Juan? She ain't gonna be happy.
It might be different if either player had tenure in Portland, knew the culture and the uniform, could find a purchase providing anchor. This is their first and only year with the organization. Crawford has played fair, Felton quite poorly. It's not like either has evidenced a ton of pride in their work for its own sake. In fact you'd be hard-pressed to name a pair of Blazers more likely to go out and just do whatever. In Crawford's case, that's his game. The Blazers need his skills but that doesn't mean they control him. Felton has struggled to find any connection to this team since Day 1.
It might be different if either player had a future with the organization. Likely Crawford would be aghast at the suggestion right now and Blazer fans would be aghast at the idea of retaining Felton...all but guaranteed to become one of the most vilified players in franchise history. On top of that, it's a short season. Because of the lockout plenty of games remain but in real time this season ends in six weeks. These guys are short-timers and they know it. What incentive, then, to reform their play or commit to any kind of team game? If anything, both need stats to bolster their claims for new contracts next season. Suddenly looking at a roster populated by Thabeets and Babbitts, they're going to be calling their own number every time down the court, at least in their minds.
The wildcard in all of this is the coaching change. Kaleb Canales is a great guy. He's also an interim coach, a first-time coach. Even were he permanent he'd have little influence over either guard's career. This could go one of two ways. "Be kind to Kaleb", along with some appreciation for the loosening of reins which is no doubt coming, might influence Felton and Crawford to be on their best behavior. Felton, in particular, will be interested in laying his woes at the feet of former coach Nate McMillan. Good play from here on out would bring credence to those claims. On the other hand, even the most glaring evidence is not likely to make GM's forget about his performance thus far, nor coaches forget that the well-respected McMillan was fired under Felton's watch. It's just as likely that either or both of Portland's non-attached guards will consider the last 23 games of the season as their personal playground with no real authority to stop them. If they take that approach, what can Canales or anyone do to stop them? Portland's roster was thin before trading away Wallace and Camby. The schedule is compressed and you can't play guys like Wesley Matthews, Nolan Smith, and Nicolas Batum forever. The Blazers can't bench Crawford and Felton and still field a team. So they'll have to put up with whatever comes. It could be fine or this could be a circus.
Either way, this is obviously an uncomfortable position for everyone involved. The effects of trades that didn't happen could provide more of a story in the remaining weeks of the season than the effects of the trades that did.
How do you think Felton and Crawford respond for the rest of 2011-12? Weigh in below.
Next Up: All the news and quotes from the Portland Trail Blazers press conference starting at 7:30 tonight.