A trade proposition gives us today's Mailbag...
I read two articles about the possibility of Roy Hibbert being traded to Portland. One trade scenario was Lopez, McCollum, and Leonard for Hibbert, another one was Lopez, Wright, Robinson, and McCollum. Would you be interested in any of these trades?Andrew
Let's start with generalities and end with these specific trade proposals.
Should the Blazers be looking to improve? Even at the cost of youth and/or trading a member of the starting lineup?
Yes, yes, and yes respectively.
Every team needs to improve, even teams supposedly on their way up in the world. Making the second round of the playoffs this year was a great accomplishment. I'm not sure we could build a consensus that the Blazers could achieve the same next year, let alone get to the Conference Finals or beyond. They aren't Miami, Oklahoma City, or San Antonio. Flattening out the curve isn't an option. They have to keep growing even if that growth entails risk.
As far as trading youth or a member of the starting lineup...well, they're going to have to do one or the other in any move, right? The list of Blazers who don't fit one of those criteria: Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and (by age, anyway) Joel Freeland. That package and a six-day-old dead squirrel would hardly draw flies on the open market. If the Blazers do choose to make a move, they don't have many options. Lacking blatantly expendable parts and draft picks, they'll be forced to dip into the starting lineup, their reserve of youngsters, or both to consummate any significant deal.
Should the Blazers be looking towards the Pacers as a potential trade partner?
That depends on Indiana's summer plans. It's hard to envision the Pacers blowing up their team after sustained success. On the other hand they're Exhibit A of the point we made just above: even the best teams can't flat-line the growth process. Stalled at the Conference Finals level is still stalled. After claiming the #1 seed and still getting racked by Miami, they'll be pressured to do something.
The Blazers should be keeping an eye on that situation. The Pacers carry exactly the type of players Portland needs: experienced, playoff-tested, hungry, and not too old. You couldn't ask for a better combination.
That said, a couple factors could interfere with any prospective trade between these two teams:
The Blazers might not have enough to offer. If the Pacers are looking to rebuild wholesale (which I judge unlikely) they'll be more interested in draft picks than Portland's youngsters. If they're looking for a push over the top, the only two Blazers who could help--Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge--would be nigh untouchable for any package Indiana could offer. Nor would the Pacers be looking for multiple players in place of a single star. They don't need to get deeper, the Blazers do.
This works the other way too. Outside of Paul George, which Pacer pushes the Blazers over the top when you consider the trade package necessary to acquire them? If those players came free or at the cost of young reserves alone, the Blazers would benefit greatly. Trading starter for starter the improvement becomes incremental.
Nevertheless, the Pacers should merit at least a Post-It note on Neil Olshey's monitor bezel this summer. If they're looking to make significant changes, the Blazers can't afford to excuse themselves from that conversation.
Would the deals proposed in the question above be worth considering from Portland's point of view?
In the abstract, sure. The Blazers need to get better. They can afford to lose a young player or two in order to make that happen. Some combination of C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Thomas Robinson wouldn't be out of the question. If Portland's 2013-14 campaign had been a band tour, those guys would have been holding tambourines and lip-synching. A competent, talented veteran off of Indiana's roster would promise more next year than all three youngsters provided Portland this season.
Parting with Robin Lopez after such a nice performance would be shocking but it isn't beyond the realm of possibility. Lopez has limitations. Living with them for a year is different than living with them over the next five when the only way forward is becoming an elite team. If a clear upgrade at center is available the Blazers have to think about it no matter how much they love Robin.
The sticking point: Is Hibbert that clear upgrade? The Blazers wanted him badly enough to chase him in restricted free agency a couple summers ago. He's a good offensive rebounder, a good defender, and he's shown breakout potential. The Blazers don't place complex demands on their centers nowadays. A system that makes Lopez look great is likely to make Hibbert look good as well.
On the other hand, Hibbert is coming off of his worst...season...ever. He posted career-low numbers in scoring and rebounding. His field goal percentage is atrocious. His roller coaster ride through this year's playoffs--from game-changer to complete non-entity in consecutive outings--has been well-chronicled. He doesn't feel like a player making forward strides...more like a guy spinning in place, blindfolded, hoping to swing in the right direction. At 27 he should be entering his fat prime years. Being directionless at this stage of his career is a bad sign no matter how much star potential he's shown in the past.
On the other, other hand, something went wrong with the Pacers' chemistry during the second half of the season. Whether the issue was mismatched skill sets or locker-room tension, they fell apart in dramatic fashion. Was Hibbert at the center of the maelstrom or was he a peripheral victim? If the former is true you don't want him anywhere near the Blazers. If the latter is more accurate a change of scenery could bring out the best in him...a powerful prospect.
I don't think Indiana's problems can be laid at the feet of Hibbert alone but I don't think he's free of them either. Even if he can't direct traffic from the center position he doesn't always come through when he has the opportunity to shine.
When packing players for a Conference Finals trip, the first consideration is talent. Right after that you ask if you can depend on a given player coming through for you in diverse, and particularly adverse, situations. Hibbert hasn't shown that kind of drive. Unless the Blazers are desperate (they're not) or still desperately in love with him (hard to imagine, but...) that's too much of a red flag to ignore.
No matter how many times I read those proposed trades, I keep coming back to what a hard sell they would be to the Blazers' fan base. Sure you'd love Hibbert's talent and potential more than Lopez's, but exchanging a guy who gives his team 120% every night for a guy who might show up? You could fill half the Grand Canyon with the cognitive and emotional dissonance. Right after the obligatory round of applause for the new guy, Hibbert would be greeted by 20,000 sets of folded arms waiting to see what he was going to produce. If he didn't vault way ahead of his current 11 point, 7 rebound, 44% shooting averages the pitchforks and torches would come out quickly.
If Hibbert was performing closer to his levels of two years ago--or even trending upward in any way--I'd have no objection to considering the packages described above. The Blazers aren't losing anything they can't afford in those deals. Right now the risk-reward meter on any Hibbert deal reads: All of the risk, Relatively little of the potential reward. That's why he'd be on the block. You can't get anywhere in this league without taking a chance, but that risk-reward ratio would make me put the brakes on this deal even though I believe Hibbert would look better in Portland next year than he did in Indiana this year.
Keep those Mailbag questions coming! The address is just below.
--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard