The NBA Trade Deadline is the topic of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag. Plenty of you thought the Portland Trail Blazers bombed out. Let’s examine.
We did nothing at the trade deadline and I’m flubbergasted. Seriously how could nothing be the answer when something is needed so clearly? Did we blow this and how much more will we blow before things get better? This is depressing.
Of 8-9 questions I got in the last 16 hours covering this topic, yours was my favorite because of the use of “flubbergasted”. It’s like flabbergasted but it bounces higher! I am SO stealing it.
Most of the notes about the trade deadline less questions than expressions of frustration. I can empathize but I’ll say the same thing I said on Twitter yesterday: whether the Blazers made a move on Thursday was largely immaterial. They already took their shot last week, trading Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkić. Even if it didn’t technically happen on Thursday it’s still a trade deadline move, more or less.
Besides, the Blazers didn’t need another incremental move to turn around their season; they needed a huge one. Only one of those was available: DeMarcus Cousins. Portland didn’t get him. No amount of wheeling and dealing for KJ McDaniels or Mike Scott would make a difference over the next two months. Given that, why not wait for a better move this summer or just forget trading altogether?
This is not to absolve the Blazers of all blame for the situation. The explanation, “There were just no trades available” is too facile. Technically trades are always available. If the Blazers had LeBron James they could get the attention of any team in the league by offering to exchange him. Millions of trade possibilities would be open. That’s not the case because...
A. The talent the Blazers are willing to part with has relatively low value compared to the assets they need. They’ve gone with the, “Buy low, refurbish, sell higher” philosophy but the refurbishment hasn’t gone great and the only people paying a higher price for Portland’s supporting cast right now is Paul Allen. Plumlee did earn them a mid-first-round pick and a center project; that’s to their credit. But that’s an isolated move against a roster that needs an overhaul. Paul George and Jimmy Butler were available. Portland couldn’t come close to touching that kind of move.
B. The Blazers can’t trade the guys they’re less willing to part with, not just because they love them but because there’s almost no way to make the move anything more than lateral. This stems from the same root cause—inadequate roster construction—but shows its full cost. When you can’t improve by trading your ancillary players and you can’t improve by trading your stars, you’re kind of stuck.
In any case, a trade deadline deal is not the solution to that problem. The Blazers need to acquire more talent. Drafting well—or at least trading those draft picks well—would be the easiest and most logical step. That happens in June, not mid-February. Panning what happened (errr...didn’t happen) yesterday makes little sense. If you’re going to get flubbergasted, get flubbergasted over the long-term stuff that’s been dogging this franchise for years, not over a single event that didn’t matter. If you take the week in isolation, Nurkić was enough.
What do you think of Olshey’s claim that the Blazers are closer to last year’s team than this year’s? It doesn’t seem to make sense and it seems a little fan-ish to me.
Here’s the actual quote as transcribed by our own David MacKay:
“I think we’re probably closer to the team people thought we were going to be than the team we are right now.”
I hear what Neil Olshey is saying. The expectations entering the season were higher than the team’s actual win rate. Your translation of “last year vs. this year” isn’t off entirely, as the summer expectations were based primarily on last spring’s performance.
Olshey may not be entirely wrong. The Blazers may be capable of performing better than their 24-33 record indicates. The argument suffers from consistency issues though. The same could have been said (in reverse) of last year’s team which overachieved compared to expectations. Under those conditions the anthem rang loudly, “Expectations mean nothing. Performance counts.” Changing the song when it doesn’t favor you anymore seems sketchy.
That said, having to sell expectations in the first place isn’t a great sign. Even if we claim the franchise is still in a rebuild (and again, that was not the story last summer) the goal is to move forward, not backwards. Shifting from talking about performance to talking about hope and adjusting expectations signals a retreat.
But here’s the clincher to me...and in a way this is all you need to know about the state of the organization right now. Let’s take the best possible interpretation and assume Olshey’s assessment is dead on. For the sake of argument, let’s agree that the team is more like the Spring, 2016 version of the Trail Blazers than their record in February, 2017 indicates. Was last year really the goal, the pinnacle? They lost handily in the second round of the playoffs after a surprise first-round win against a crippled Clippers squad. That’s it? That’s the land of milk and honey we’re wishing we could get back to? It’s skim milk and corn syrup maybe...better than nothing but hardly sustaining.
The point is not to run down the team. Who doesn’t have a twinge of Nurkić-inspired hope right now? But when we arrive at a point where the best possible interpretation of words meant to paint the future in the most inspiring way just indicate how far the franchise has to go, you know that distance is pretty long. The Blazers aren’t good right now, they’re looking upwards at a ceiling that reads “above average”. This is not where they wanted to be.