Recent comments from Neil Olshey and Hickson's agent make it pretty clear that JJ Hickson will not be in a Blazer uniform next season. The team desperately needs a defensive force in the paint, and that is arguably Hickson's biggest weakness. Hickson's vacancy would leave gaps at both starting C and back up PF. The Blazers can seek his replacement via trade, free agency, or the draft. The question is, what's the right mix? Here's my take:
A sign and trade might be the answer to getting the most value out of the situation. In looking for teams Hickson might be likely to play for (i.e. east coast playoff teams over the cap with a need for an upgrade at starting PF), two teams stand out, Brooklyn and Boston. I recall reading the the trade deadline rumor that Hickson would've waived his no-trade clause to be traded to Brooklyn. That didn't happen because Portland wasn't willing to take back Kris Humphries and his giant contract. My guess is that a sign and trade with Brooklyn is unlikely this summer for the same reasons.
Boston on the other hand, has Brandon Bass, a player that Portland reportedly showed interest in when searching for a backup power forward 2 years ago. He's got 2 years and 13.7 million remaining on his contract. Here's his stats this year, which are pretty close to his career averages:
6'8", 250 lbs, 27 yrs old, 8.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, .8 BPG, .473 FG%, .857 FT%, 11.9 PER, 27.4 MPG
My impression of him is that he's a poor man's Paul Millsap, a consistent, work-horse type that plays bigger than he is, and finds his offense in the flow of the game like Hickson. He rebounds well and is effective as a role player on a good team. The trade might look like this:
Boston gets: J.J. Hickson, 4 yrs/30 mil
Portland gets: #16 pick, Brandon Bass, 2 yrs/13.7 mil
Why does Boston make this trade? Hickson would pair nicely with Garnett's defense and give them a young, starting PF for years to come. I think Boston would part with a role payer and a mid first round pick to avoid a complete rebuild this summer.
Our own 12th pick might then be a more expendable asset to find our starting center in another trade. Consider this:
Portland gets: Marcin Gortat, 1 yr/7.7 mil
Gortat is 6'11", 240 lbs, 29 yrs old, and in his 3 yrs as a Phoenix Sun, he averages 13.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1 APG, 55% FG, 65% FT, 30 MPG.
Why does Phoenix make this trade? They are in full rebuilding mode and they could turn a center they are unlikely to re-sign into cap space and a lottery pick with potential that will develop in the same time frame as the rest of their team.
How does this affect our cap? I'll leave the exact numbers to the experts, but its safe to say that the combined salaries of Gortat (7.7m), Bass (6.5m), and the #16 pick (1.6m) would exhaust our cap space. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing if the team's needs are met. Being over the cap might make it more likely that we secure Eric Maynor with a qualifying offer. It also would make available the full mid-level exception (5m) rather than the mini-mid level (2.5m) to spend on upgrading our bench. On a related note, there are several mid-level type FA SGs available this year (Kyle Korver, Martell Webster, Nick Young, Shannon Brown, Tony Allen) who could fill the remaining need in the rotation.
What about opportunity cost? What player(s) would the Blazers certainly miss out on by exhausting cap space in trades? Potential 6th men J.J. Redick, Tyreke Evans, and O.J. Mayo will likely command 8-10 million and would then be out of reach. Likewise, making risky offers to the likes of restricted free agents Tiago Splitter or Nikola Pekovic would also be out of the question. And if you're hoping for a miracle like signing Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, or even Al Jefferson, keep dreaming. I cant think of any offer that would get those players to play for Portland.
Would coming out of this summer with Bass, Gortat, a mid level player and the #16 pick be considered a success among fans? Given that there would still be question marks at the backup SG position and at non-rotation positions, would these moves give you confidence that we could make it out of the first round of the playoffs? In other words, would they move Neil Olshey's needle? Let me know in the comments section.