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The Hinrich File

As soon as the Chicago Bulls hit the lottery jackpot the question began circling:  How available is Kirk Hinrich and could the Blazers use him?  This was one of the lead questions on the ever-excellent Gavin Dawson show on 95.5 The Game and I’d like to elaborate here.

Before I do, many thanks to Matt at BlogaBull for helping refine some of the rough perceptions on Hinrich.  He’s helping me bring things to the table and making me look more informed than I probably actually am.  If you haven’t checked out his site yet, hop over there soon.

The very first question you have to ask with this issue is whether Chicago will take Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley.  The irony here shouldn’t escape notice.  The Bulls likely made a mistake passing up Lamarcus Aldridge a couple years ago and are still paying for it trying to find that big-man scorer.  The Blazers made a similar mistake a year prior passing up Chris Paul and Deron Williams and are still trying to find a point guard.  If Chicago takes the point guard then a possible solution might come available to us.  If they finally get their big man, however, we’re out in the cold, at least as far as the Hinrich deal.  I have not talked to Matt about this, but judging from the current internet temperature I’d say the odds were going about 65-35 towards them selecting Rose.  They’ve had no workouts or interviews yet though, so those rumor-induced odds are probably bogus.

Another factor to consider is that a new coach could prefer working with a veteran point guard, or at least having one in his hip pocket just in case.  Throwing all your eggs in Rose’s basket, especially with a team that’s been built to contend soon, could be risky.

But let’s assume the Bulls do take Rose and, since you don’t draft a guy #1 overall to watch him sit, they decide not to go with the year of induction under Hinrich.  There are several factors which recommend the Sioux City Sensation to the Blazers:

  • At 27 he’s a veteran.  We desperately need veterans who can play.  I think it’s becoming apparent to everyone that acquiring a veteran point guard of some sort is a priority if the Blazers’ immediate future is to be bright.

  • He’s durable.  Hinrich has never played fewer than 75 games in a season.  Given the relative fragility of some of our other stars so far, that’s a load off the mind.

  • He has good court vision.

  • He defends quite well for a point guard.

  • He’s careful with the ball, which should endear him to Coach McMillan.

  • He’s a good distance shooter, and well-rounded players who can also hit from distance are just what the doctor ordered for this team.

It’s not a complete slam-dunk, however.  There are also some cons:

  • Most obviously, he took a step backwards this season.  It’s always dangerous to trade for a guy of two years ago instead of the guy you’re actually getting.  Here are his stats if you want to check them.

  • Though he’s a good distance shooter he’s spotty as an overall scorer.  He doesn’t break down defenses and could be considered a mild, rather than dangerous, offensive threat.  We already have a bunch of guys in the supporting cast who, either through talent or inconsistency, fit that description.

  • He’s aggressive, which is a plus, but his abandon gets him in foul trouble.  You want your point guard steady and on the court.

  • He’s not necessarily a team leader.

  • Even though he’s a good defender, the word is he’s not as quick as he is big on defense.  He’s not going to be the miracle solution that shores up our backcourt. Here are the splits of some of the premium guards in the West against Chicago this year:

    • Allen Iverson  25.5 ppg on 53% shooting

    • Baron Davis   31 ppg on 45% shooting

    • Tony Parker   25.5 ppg on 54% shooting

    • Chris Paul       31 ppg on 62% shooting plus 13.5 assists

    • Deron Williams  17 ppg on 44% shooting plus 10.5 assists

    • Steve Nash   12 ppg on 38% shooting and 11 assists

The only below-average mark in the bunch was Nash’s offensive production.  Everything else was on average or, in some cases, far better.  Granted Chicago switches up guards a bit (just like Portland would) so this isn’t all on Kirk, but clearly putting Hinrich on the floor isn’t going to thwart the major competition in the West.

Nevertheless Hinrich would easily be a better defender than anyone we currently field at his position.  Also you can safely say that most of his weaker points (team leadership, scoring, even the “tweener” syndrome on defense with Oden coming in) are well-covered by the team whereas his strengths hit the sweet spot.

One of the other huge questions would be how well he’d match with Brandon Roy.  There’s no doubt that would be a skilled, smart, dedicated backcourt duo.  In fact for basketball purists there might not be many better in the league.  The major drawback would be the lack of physical domination.  Both guys get a ton out of their bodies, but when you start thinking about regular 82-game grinds plus a host of 7-game playoff series every year you’d like a little more explosiveness, athleticism, and intimidation to bail you out when the going gets rough.  (On the other hand, Greg Oden may provide enough of that for everybody.)  I’d guess that Roy and Hinrich would mesh well and probably enjoy playing together.

Now we get to the salary part.  This year Hinrich made $11.25 million.  His salary graduates downward through 2012 like so:

  • 2008-09  $10.25 million

  • 2009-10  $9.75 million

  • 2010-11  $9.25 million

  • 2011-12  $8.25 million

If the real Kirk Hinrich is the one we saw last year that’s a pretty spendy deal.  If, however, you believe he has the potential to be one of the unassumingly-premier point guards in the league it’s a good buy.  The downward graduation makes the contract easier to swallow.  It’s refreshing to have a guy who will be making less at age 31 instead of getting paid a hefty premium for what he used to be.  If Hinrich fulfills his potential at all that contract should remain tradeable as well.  It’s hardly poison.  In fact it’s not a ton more than Darius Miles’ contract was.

Much like the dollar figures, the length can either be reassuring or daunting depending on your assessment of Hinrich.  Another four years with a well-fitting, talented, not-too-expensive point guard would be marvelous.  Four years with an underachiever would be painful, perhaps devastating when you consider the summit of the Blazers’ expectations and the thin margin between success and failure at those heights.  One of the questions the Blazers will need to ask is, “Do we envision Kirk Hinrich as a starting point guard on a Conference Finals, NBA Finals, or championship team?”   If the answer is “no” or “I’m not sure” you can’t make the deal.

The contract throws one more potential fly in the ointment.  As a result of his recent contract signing Hinrich is a Base Year Compensation player this year.  In a nutshell this means that his contract is halved in terms of the amount Chicago can take back in trade for him, but retains its full value for purposes of counting against our cap in a potential trade.  In other words he counts as $11.25 million against our cap but Chicago can only take $5.5 million and change back for him.  Since both Portland and Chicago are over the cap there’s no way to make that trade using just two teams.  Cap rules prevent us from accepting $11.25 million while only giving out $5.5 million.  The only way this trade could work would be to find a third team with enough space under the cap to take some of our players for free.  In other words we’d send $5.5 million worth of players to Chicago for Hinrich and another $5.5 million in players to that third team for nothing, ridding ourselves of the necessary $11.25 million, give or take.  Obviously this is problematic.  First of all we’d have to find that third team that’s under the cap.  Second, they’d have to want our players.  Third, we’d have to trade not only enough value to Chicago to get them to give up Hinrich, but extra players worth $5 million or so to that third team.

This means that Raef LaFrentz cannot be part of a deal to acquire Hinrich right now.  His $12 million-plus salary is far more than Chicago could accept in return.  So whatever players we send to Chicago would be young players with smaller salaries.  Then we’d have to send more of those small salaries to the third team.  So now you’re talking about trading 3-4 of our young guys for Hinrich.  That means not just Jack, but guys like Sergio, Martell, Travis, and Channing Frye, in addition to that draft pick.  How much is Portland willing to give up to get this guy?  As long as Hinrich remains a Base Year Compensation player a deal seems highly unlikely.

The good news is that Hinrich’s BYC status expires as of July 1st of this year.  That means after July 1 the Bulls can just trade him normally without worrying about taking back only half of his salary.  His (at that point) $10.25 million contract will be just that…$10.25 million.  Chicago could trade with Portland on even terms.  All we have to do is hit within 25% (plus $100,000) of that $10.25 million with whatever salaries we send in return.  This opens up new, and much more palatable, trading possibilities.  However July 1 is well after the draft, meaning that the 13th pick could not be included, as such, in the package.  Unless we select specifically for Chicago in the 13th spot, intending to trade that player to them in July, that pick is probably off the table in the trade.

In short, a trade could be done, but many of the obvious-seeming ones being mentioned actually won’t work because of the BYC hang-up.

Would a trade for Hinrich be a good deal?  If we gave up the right pieces and if he panned out reasonably well, it could be fantastic.  But there’s a bit of gray area in there…enough that it’s not an automatic move.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

--Dave (