The Portland Trail Blazers spent their trade deadline day in two pursuits:
1. Moving a trade exception left over from Raymond Felton plus the rights to Georgiois Printezis to Oklahoma City for point guard Eric Maynor. Portland waived point guard Ronnie Price to make room for Maynor on the roster.
2. Not trading J.J. Hickson
Maynor was the classic Portland Trail Blazers value move of the sort they've been pursuing since the Kevin Pritchard days. Best guess is that they've had their eyes on him for a while. Likely he was on their draft board back in 2009, having averaged 22 ppg his senior year at VCU. He wasn't the hottest prospect in the draft even then, going 20th to Utah. But the clincher here is that the Blazers got him for virtually nothing. They've leased him for a trial run between now and the end of the season. If they like him they make a modest offer during the summer and keep him without impinging too much on their cap space. If he doesn't pan out they just let him go...no harm, no foul, no cap impact at all. There's no downside to this deal unless you believe that Printezis is going to make an NBA roster and contribute. That's a longshot at best.
Caution, though, Blazers fans. Any significant upside to this deal would also be a longshot. Maynor has skills. He's a great risk considering he once had upside and they got him for free. Maybe he turns out to be the player of their dreams. But after ACL surgery and now on his third team in his four-year league tenure, he's probably going to turn out nondescript...a reasonable gamble that didn't make much impact.
The best thing about Maynor is that he's got genuine point guard tools. He's 6'3", has a good assist-to-turnover ratio, he can pass, and he's shown the ability to run a team. When he presses too hard he goes off the rails, but if he can get in the flow of Portland's system the multiple outlets for assists should bring out the best in him. It's easy to see him hitting the Batums and Babbitts of the world for open jumpers. He's pretty smart, has a few dribble moves...he just knows what to do with the ball. He's probably more advanced in this vein than Damian Lillard even. That's going to be a great boon to a reserve corps starving for a set-up man. It could even help Lillard himself if the two play together from time to time.
Maynor's offensive game is mid-range and beyond. He's not an efficient scorer. He was already limited by a shortage of raw athleticism at the NBA level. The knee problem hasn't helped. He's dropped from an average-level offensive threat to a poor one. The Blazers have to hope that playing time will restore his confidence because his current percentages of 31% from the floor and 32.5% from the arc are going to hurt. Portland can't afford to have opposing defenses playing 5-on-4 against players already struggling to produce points.
Defense is also an issue for Maynor. Again athleticism is not his friend. And again the knee surgery has made things worse. At this point I feel fairly comfortable labeling him a poor defender with the asterisk that there's always hope. He's smart enough and committed enough to improve that. Then again the Blazers aren't the most stalwart of defensive teams as it is, so environment isn't going to help...at least not this year.
Then again, maybe having an actual point guard coming off the bench is enough at this point. Ronnie Price's ankle problems proved chronic and his great games could be counted on one hand. Nolan Smith just isn't ready to be a point guard. It's not like you're asking Maynor to play 30 minutes or lead your franchise into the next decade. Why not take a flyer on a reclamation project and see if you can get lucky? He fills a position of need. He fits the culture. He costs nothing. Good enough.
We've seen this kind of move before from the Blazers. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Either way they'll be OK.
Rumors swirled around Hickson all morning long but ultimately the Blazers couldn't strike a deal. Bird Rights were likely an issue, but the other lesson here is that no matter how well he plays, you're not going to be able to take a guy who was waiver-wire fodder (and perhaps part pariah) a year ago and turn him into a first-round pick. No matter how you fix up the paint job and tune the engine, people are going to say, "Didn't I just see that car on the side of the road with a 'FREE' sign on it a little while ago?"
From Portland's point of view, Hickson represents his entire salary in cap space this summer. The Blazers weren't going to do anything to endanger that...or rather they weren't going to take any less to move Hickson. He's playing well for them. Even if he's not their center of the future, there's no downside to letting him play out the string in Portland.
Names batted around like Charlotte's Ben Gordon and Brooklyn's Kris Humphries were patently ridiculous. Those guys make $12 million per year. Even if you could have accumulated enough salary to swing the deal, say goodbye to your cap room this summer. For what? A semi-nice player coming off your bench with serious flaws (Gordon) or duplicating your strongest position (Humphries)?
The only way a Hickson deal would have made sense is if it would have brought back a player the Blazers would have chased this summer anyway. The other possible deal would be for that first-round pick they supposedly chased. That would impact the cap as well but at a low level. More to the point, another pick would have given the Blazers flexibility. They could have used it or included it in a trade. The most tantalizing scenario would have been combining their own lottery pick with the new one to move up. If, for instance, Portland got the 10th pick and could also package the 18th with it, they might have access to positions as high as 6th in the upcoming draft.
Failing that, remember that every dollar the Blazers took back in a Hickson trade would have been a dollar less they could spend this summer. This was not the same "taking a flyer with no consequences" situation as the Maynor deal. The Blazers would have paid for a move. Unless the reward was worth it, standing pat was the way to go.
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