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Thomas Robinson Trade Analysis

The Trail Blazers have agreed to trade two international players and two second-round picks for Houston's Thomas Robinson. What are they getting and what does this herald for the team's future?

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Before we were even able to post our "State of the Blazers" article in preparation for free agency news has come down that Portland has agreed to trade the rights to Kostas Papanikolau and Marko Todorovic plus two future second-round picks to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Thomas Robinson.

Background on Robinson

Robinson is a 6'9", 240lb, 22-year-old power forward. He was selected 5th overall in last year's draft by the Sacramento Kings then traded to the Houston Rockets mid-season before coming to Portland. He averaged 43% from the field and 52% from the foul line with poor efficiency numbers. His rebounding rate was the strongest part of his game with a propensity to foul coming after.

Patrick Harrel of SBNation's The Dream Shake offers Houston's perspective on Robinson and the deal.

When the Rockets brought in Thomas Robinson at the deadline this year, everyone was more than a little bit excited about the move. Here was a guy so hyped up at the draft as an NBA ready prospect with bright future as a glass-eating, athletic four. What we saw was someone who seemed headed in a path to fulfill that potential, but was much further away from contributing than we imagined.

Right now, his strongest skill is his rebounding. Even while playing a great deal of his minutes alongside rebounding savant, Omer Asik, Robinson still averaged nearly 11 rebounds per 36 minutes. He not only can jump high, but he's extremely quick off the ground, and with time, I expect that he will join the ranks of elite rebounding big men in no time.

Outside of that, it gets a little rough. He looked overmatched defensively in his rookie year, struggling with positioning and staying in front of opponents. I suspect the system (or lack thereof) in Sacramento hurt him, but he was definitely behind the curve on that side of the ball.

When it came to offense, Robinson flashed an intriguing faceup spin move, but otherwise did not do much. He didn't shoot or finish well in his rookie year, and was overall fairly underwhelming.

At the end of the day, I would guess that Robinson ends up having a solid career as a bench big man who can step in and start in a pinch, and the Blazers got a great deal for him. He's been around a lot in his first year, but that truly isn't his fault. The Kings moved him in a Maloof cash grab at the deadline, and the Rockets had to make a trade so that they could go into free agency with a max offer in hand. Robinson happened to have the largest moveable contract at a position with depth, and the Rockets made a solid deal to clear up some serious cap room.

Financial Implications

Robinson's rookie deal pays him approximately $3.5 million next season and runs for two years following, maxing out around $4.65 million in 2015-16. The combined salaries of the players and picks going to Houston count $0 towards Portland's salary cap. The Blazers will absorb $3.5 million in cap obligation in this deal. Adjusting for the minimum roster hold occupying Robinson's spot currently, the Blazers will retain approximately $8.8 million in cap space following this deal.

As a result we can effectively eliminate a couple potential off-season strategies detailed in our earlier post. Absent a salary dump of their own the Blazers will not be able to make an significant offer to premier restricted free agents. Not many players on the unrestricted market this summer are worth $12 million but those guys are obviously off the table as well.

Assuming that the mid-level exception defines the minimum salary necessary to lure a significant free agent, Portland's capability of doing so will drop from 2 to 1. $8.8 million is still a handsome offer if they're only targeting a single player, though.

While the Blazers can still sign free agents with their cap space, the probability of them doing so has become slightly less likely.

On the other hand, that $8.8 million will still facilitate unbalanced trades. It's unlikely that Portland would need to absorb nearly $12 million in a given trade, so this option won't be dimmed at all by acquiring Robinson. Assuming that Meyers Leonard defines the bottom end of Portland's trade bait possibilities and Nicolas Batum the top end here's a chart detailing the approximate maximum salaries the Blazers could accept in trade in a post-Robinson world:

Players Out

Salary Out

Maximum Salary Return

Meyers Leonard

$2.2 mil

$11 mil

Wesley Matthews

$6.9 mil

$15.7 mil


$9.1 mil

$17.9 mil

Nicolas Batum

$11.3 mil

$20.1 mil


$13.5 mil

$22.3 mil

As you can see, this option is alive and still quite powerful.

Obviously the Blazers could also trade out a player or players for less incoming salary, restoring some of their cap flexibility and re-opening options. Any of the above players could qualify.

If the Blazers were able to convince another team to absorb Joel Freeland's contract they'd get most of the $3 million back but Portland's plausible resources to effect such a trade are dwindling unless he's packaged in one of the above deals. In the latter case, simply add $3 million to the outgoing and maximum return for a given deal.

Impending Direction

While no single move is conclusive and a Robinson trade could be described as a value move, too good to pass up, the fact remains that it takes the Blazers in the direction of unproven youth and uses up cap space that could have been spent on veteran players. As we explained in the free agency preview, this could be the first indication that Portland and LaMarcus Aldridge are not long-term marriage partners. If the Blazers turn around and trade for a proven center then T-Rob takes his place as a reasonable risk. If the Blazers can't land a productive veteran through trade or free agency or if they continue to go for value and potential over proven commodities, they're likely hoisting the "rebuild" flag and will look to boost that rejuvenation into high gear with an Aldridge move down the road.

If I'm LaMarcus Aldridge I'm not objecting to Portland's draft or acquiring Thomas Robinson, but I am looking at the front office and saying, "You know this isn't even close to doing it, right?" Then I'm keeping an eye on the remaining $8.8 million of cap space and watching carefully how Portland chooses to spend it.

Stay tuned for even more news and rumors and share your thoughts about Robinson and the free-agency period in any of the available threads.

--Dave (