Today we offer 3 Princliples to guide you through the trade chatter surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers this week. When slipping through the latest rumors (and don't worry, we'll bring you those too), keep these things in mind.
Not Making a Move Is a Viable Option
The Trail Blazers sit at 36-17, deadlocked with the Houston Rockets for the 3-4 seeds in the West. Compared to Golden State's 42-9 record that achievement is modest. Compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, and New Orleans Pelicans, Portland's position is enviable. The Blazers aren't in the catbird seat but they're not the newspaper lining the cage either.
Let's say the Blazers acquire a serviceable veteran in the next week. That player won't be enough to allow Portland to overtake the Warriors unless the Warriors are going to plummet anyway. (At this point catching Golden State depends more on what Golden State does than on what their pursuers do, especially when we're talking about adding a 7th or 8th man.) Unless something goes wonky, we're talking about the Blazers finishing in a range between the 2nd seed and the 7th with or without a deal. Would climbing to #2 to face the San Antonio Spurs provide more of an advantage than finishing 3rd and facing the Los Angeles Clippers or 4th and playing the Dallas Mavericks?
Obviously the standings will shift between now and April, but you get the idea. The Blazers might gain an extra round of homecourt advantage or prevent themselves from losing the round they've earned so far. That matters, but it's a thin thread upon which to hang a significant deal. Deal or no, you'll be rolling a six-sided die to determine their first round opponent. Then you can flip a coin--if we're lucky, a weighted coin in the 1st round but an even one at best in the 2nd--to determine the outcome of that matchup. The Blazers aren't out of the running against any opponent but they aren't safe against any opponent either. That's not going to change.
If the front office doesn't make a move, it doesn't indicate a lack of desire to win now. It means their prospective moves wouldn't have gratified that desire enough to merit the cost. Under those conditions, no move may be the best move.
Free Is a Very Good Price
Most of the talk surrounding Portland centers on trades. Proposed deals are sexy, the players coming back valuable and proven. But trades cost. Picking up players who clear waivers doesn't...at least not more than a veteran minimum contract.
The bar for this kind of signing is far lower than for a trade. The team loses no players. They make no meaningful commitment. If the move bombs, no harm is done. Negative outcomes disappear; positive outcomes get magnified.
Prospects of finding a big man in this fashion dipped tonight as Amar'e Stoudemire signed with the Dallas Mavericks and Jermaine O'Neal declared himself unready to return to the NBA. Stoudemire appeared committed to Dallas from the start. The prospect of acquiring him provoked mixed feelings among Portland fans. But for a prorated $1.5 million salary, couldn't you see him throwing an extra wrinkle into the Blazers' pick and roll game? Whatever he lacked would prove immaterial as Portland paid him the same salary as Victor Claver. Maybe he's not the right guy, but for that price somebody out there ought to be. As far as we know, Ray Allen remains undecided about his future at this hour. Larry Sanders is rumored to be on his way out of Milwaukee. Other teams may cut semi-desirable young players as well.
It's easy to get hung up trying to find the perfect addition. If that player isn't available, imperfect and cost-free may be a better choice than somewhat imperfect but more expensive. A no-risk gamble against the possibility of modest reward makes more sense than standing pat or betting the farm on a single move.
If the Blazers Do Make a Move, Long-Term Still Matters
Part of this stems from the first point above. Because of the quality of the opposition, the Blazers won't find a deal that would make them clear-cut favorites in the conference this year. They're not in a position to think of this season in isolation.
Age and salary feed the point. Portland's starting lineup averages 26.5 years of age. LaMarcus Aldridge will turn 30 in July but he's still got 2-3 seasons of prime left. The Blazers need to strategize their window over the next 4 years, not the next 4 months.
Presumably Portland will re-sign Aldridge and their starters this summer, eating up their cap space. The new television deal will open up possibilities the year following...perhaps sooner if the league and players' union can agree on a smoothing plan. A couple of summers ago it looked like Portland's "now or never" cap moment was nigh. They've been granted a reprieve and more space in which to work.
For all these reasons, whatever players the Blazers bring in have to make sense over as much of that span as possible. Age, skill set, talent, and salary all matter. Shoehorning all four into a mid-season move is tough. Opportunities will be more plentiful over the summer and onward. The front office won't be in a hurry to jeopardize those opportunities unless return outweighs investment.
What else might the Blazers consider when making a deal outside of sheer talent-for-talent considerations? If you have an idea, let us know in the comment section.
Also stay tuned for a BIG announcement about Blazer's Edge Night on March 30th. In the meantime, make sure to help underprivileged youth, children, and chaperons see the Blazers play the Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to the cause. You can find all the details here.