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Should the Trail Blazers Have Kept Nicolas Batum?

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A Blazer's Edge reader is having second thoughts about losing last year's starting small forward. We empathize and analyze.

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Time for another Mailbag! If you have a question pertaining to the Portland Trail Blazers (or any other wacky subject that comes to mind...it is the off-season, after all) send it along to blazersub@gmail.com and we'll do our best to answer.

Dave,

Knowing what we know now, would you still make the Batum trade? Especially considering the huge contract given to Turner, Henderson leaving and Vonleh (while still only 20 but unlikely to get any playing time next year therefore unlikely to improve) who looks like a bust.

Thanks,
Trey

Ugh. I hate hindsight. Certain things a GM can be expected to know; other things, not so much.

When the Nicolas Batum trade was executed in June of 2015, Neil Olshey had to know there was a decent chance his team was about to fall apart. Under those circumstances, trading away Batum made perfect sense. Look at it this way: Batum was the only departing starter for whom the Blazers got any compensation. Everybody else walked away for free. Trading Batum for a wad of used chewing gum and a top-59-protected draft pick would have made more sense than getting nothing for him. Taking a flyer on Noah Vonleh and getting a year of service out of Gerald Henderson was adequate.

Like you, I don't have high hopes for Vonleh's long-term career. It's too early to put the epitaph on that gravestone though. We can't judge the efficacy of the deal until we've seen the results for both parties and we won't know that for another year or two...mostly because of Vonleh.

Signing Evan Turner (not to mention retaining Allen Crabbe on a roster that already features CJ McCollum) made keeping Henderson beyond this year impractical. The Charlotte Hornets managed to re-sign Batum this summer but it's worth noting that his reported 5-year, $120 million deal eclipses Turner's 4-year, $70 million offer.

Whether Batum would be worth that money for the Blazers now depends on your assessment of his value. He wasn't allowed to spread his wings in Portland as much as he can in Charlotte. That stretching left him towards the top of his career performances but not head and shoulders above his best seasons as a Trail Blazer. The Blazers would have paid for a version of Batum comparable to the one they knew and loved, with all the joys and frustrations pertaining. Would that leave them that much better off? Batum is certainly a better shooter than Turner but their per-minute production averages are in the same range. And again, Turner came with a year shorter contract and a $50 million savings...significant for a team suddenly threatening to cross the luxury tax threshold.

No matter which side of that fence we fall on, there's no way Olshey could have known last year that in the Summer of 2016, a player like Batum--or Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews, for that matter--could have aided a team that was supposed to contend for lottery position, not ping pong balls. Technically there's still no way to ascertain that, as the Blazers will need to repeat last year's performance a time or two before it sticks. Optimism and win projections are one thing; forecasting a full year in advance that a specific (expensive) veteran could help a cobbled-together frontcourt--not even put together yet when Batum was traded--is quite another. Even if you'd rather have Batum than Turner, Olshey cannot be held accountable for a decision that made sense in the midst of 2015's unprecedented mass exodus.

If you're asking whether I'd still make the Nicolas Batum trade in hindsight, given the circumstances I would. In fact I would have traded far more than just Batum and far sooner than June of 2015. Even without perfect retroactive knowledge the deal makes sense, though I agree that Charlotte will probably end up getting the better of it long-term.

Whether I would have used the resulting cap space on Evan Turner is another matter, but that's also another Mailbag.

Keep those questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com!

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge