The Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets have pulled the trigger on a deal sending Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, Victor Claver, a first-round pick, and perhaps a second to the Denver Nuggets for Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee. Here are several aspects of the deal to consider.
How Will Afflalo Fit In?
He should fit in well. Then again, the criteria aren't that exacting, especially for a player coming off the bench in Portland's system. Can you shoot the three? Yes. Are you a ball hog? Not really. OK, are you an inveterate, Carmelo-Anthony ball hog who destroys systems with your overt dribbling and mid-range chicanery? Whoa! No. Then you should fit.
Afflalo takes about half of his shots from 16 feet and out, a practice which will likely continue in Portland unless he's on the break. He shoots 50% between 16 feet and the three-point arc, 34% beyond the arc. The latter number is a tad low but Afflalo has posted five 40%+ seasons from that range in his 8 years in the league. With the kind of shots the Blazers generate, there's hope his percentage will creep upwards.
Afflalo isn't a great defender but he's not inept. The Blazers don't necessarily need him to be all-world. They need a guy who can score off the bench, who isn't afraid to push the offense, and upon whom they can rely if Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum get injured, have foul trouble, or are slumping. Afflalo fills the bill. He's a fine addition...evolutionary instead of revolutionary. That's pretty much what the Blazers wanted.
What About Alonzo Gee?
Gee is a utility swingman. Most of his offense came at the rim this year but he's been more balance between inside and out in years past. He's not really a scorer, though...more of a guy you can put in the game who won't embarrass you. He'll have a hard time cracking Portland's rotation with Batum, Afflalo, and Dorell Wright ahead of him.
What Are the Cap Implications?
They're minimal, at least at first. Afflalo makes $7.5 million this year, Gee $1 million. Robinson, Barton, and Claver make $5.9 million combined, give or take. The Blazers took on around $2.5 million in salary. That won't put them over the luxury tax threshold.
The sticking point comes next year. All three outgoing contracts would have expired. Afflalo has a $7.5 million player option for next season. If he doesn't opt-out, the Blazers are on the books for that much. If he does, presumably they'll have to offer more in order to retain him. Keep in mind, though, that this is the summer they'll be signing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez. Unless the landscape changes or they decide to forego one of those players, they won't have any cap space to chase free agents anyway. Acquiring Afflalo won't cost them an opportunity. In fact it could create opportunity, giving them another bargaining chip in trades. Afflalo also provides a safety valve in case something wonky happens with Matthews' negotiations.
Don't Forget the Roster Spot
The 3-for-2 nature of the exchange could become one of the more interesting aspects of this deal. The Blazers now have a roster spot open...two if they decide to waive Gee. They're in a position to pick up another player who passes waivers (or anyone not currently playing). The CBA allows teams to pick up minimum contracts even if they're over the cap. The Blazers could take advantage of that provision.
Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal are the big non-signed names this year but O'Neal has said he won't play and picking up Afflalo presumably alleviates the need for Allen. The Boston Celtics are supposedly planning to buy out Tayshaun Prince is they can't find a deal for him. The rumor mill says the relationship between the Milwaukee Bucks and Larry Sanders may be over. The Blazers may well net a bonus player out of this exchange for little-to-no cost and almost zero risk.
How Did the Blazers Do?
Well enough. Afflalo should work out fine. He's 29, giving the Blazers the 3-4 year window they needed, should they choose to keep him. Including a first-round pick indicates that they plan to do so. They could justify losing Barton, Robinson, and Claver for a 4-month rental since they may not have planned to retain them anyway. The first-rounder is a popular and flexible asset, though. They probably wouldn't have let it go unless they thought Afflalo's value would last. Afflalo won't push them over the top on his own but he'll provide depth. If they can snag another veteran who passed waivers, they could get remarkably deep in a short time at minimal cost. It appears the Blazers are ready to go for it now (or in the very near future) and are taking the steps to make that possible.
Willy Raedy will come up later with hard analysis of Afflalo's numbers and playing style, likely with video illustrations. In the meantime keep checking the trade announcement post for reaction to the deal and stay tuned for reports on all other deals around the league.
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