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What Happened to Moe Harkless and the Trail Blazers?

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The Blazers got Harkless on the cheap and he’s performed decently. Why has he seemed to disappear?

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers and Maurice Harkless have had a rocky relationship. At times Harkless has looked like the starting forward of the future, filling in gaps that no other current Trail Blazer is suited to fill. Other times he’s seemed like the forgotten man on the bench. In between, he’s put in less-than-memorable appearances when given the opportunity. That’s the subject of this Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question.

Hello Dave,

I spent some time researching Moe Harkless, and I can’t figure out what is going on. I mean I guess some players are not getting played like Meyers leonard, Caleb, etc. But Moe harkless started season doing decent and now he gets zero minutes. Is he injured? Is he getting traded or demanded one? I think they are sitting him out to trade him personally but are not telling the public.

Evan

Way back when, in the stone age (a.k.a. 2015) Phil Naessens and I were hosting the Blazer’s Edge Podcast when the Blazers acquired Moe Harkless from Orlando for a second-round pick. While we agreed that the move was classic Trail Blazers—no risk, no cost, with potential upside—Phil warned about the likely outcome. He said Moe had talent, but he was young, frustrated, and wanted to play. If the Blazers gave him big minutes, he’d probably be OK. As soon as they put him on the bench, he was going to do to them what he had done to the Magic: act disaffected and rebel.

The story has been slightly more complex than that. Harkless has had a good run with the Blazers. He shot 50% from the field last season, playing well in a jack-of-all-trades, role. Not many second-round picks will give you 23 minutes per game, starting 102 times. If you consider only the original exchange, the Blazers did well with this trade.

Signing Harkless to an extended, $10.5 million per year contract was a questionable choice, especially when it looks like the considerably-more-valuable Jusuf Nurkic won’t be making much more than that next year. Harkless was great as a value addition. Once the value disappeared, so did half of his attraction.

We can also empathize with Harkless if he feels a little bit screwed over. He started 14 of 78 games in his first season in Portland, proving himself late in the year and carrying on through the playoffs. Last year he started in 69 of 77 games and played 29 minutes per. Though the team does not have an appreciably better record this year, he’s down to 19 starts in 38 games and 20.0 minutes per. Granted, he’s making bank, but he’s still only 24 years old. He’ll not be interested in coasting through the rest of his career playing intermittently for a non-contending team, barely touching the ball.

The initial reasons for Harkless exiting the starting rotation may have had as much to do with the talent around him as his own play. The Blazers needed offense from more positions. Harkless doesn’t provide that. Al-Farouq Aminu has started to, and the Blazers didn’t pay Evan Turner six billion dollars to not play him.

Whatever the impetus for the switch, Harkless has devolved since. His shooting percentage for the season is down to 44.5%, 33.9% from distance. Pat Connaughton is way ahead of him shooting threes and Turner isn’t that far behind, plus both carry a comparable overall percentage. For perspective, Zach Collins—the rookie poster boy for offensive struggles—is sporting numbers similar to Harkless. We can talk about chicken and egg, but you can’t play your way back into the rotation by not playing well.

Some of this was foreshadowed at the end of last season. Harkless’ exit interviews were muted. I was somewhat surprised to see him back in uniform this fall. The situation hasn’t improved. He’s not getting the ball and doesn’t seem to be happy about that. He shows his old flair in isolated bursts, but his play has been spotty. When he gets 25 minutes or more on the floor, he looks pretty good. Anything less than that and you can flip a coin between “meh” and disaster.

True story: on my porch right now sit three large pumpkins. They were purchased for Halloween, 2017. They are still not carved. UPS delivery people leave packages behind them. At this point I am nervous about touching them, fearing that they’ll spontaneously explode with rottenness.

I have put more effort into cleaning up my stoop than Moe Harkless puts in on a bad night. At this point he is also a threat to spontaneously explode with rottenness at any given moment.

You never say never in the NBA; relationships can be repaired. But right now the relationship between Harkless and the Blazers seems to be going as Phil Naessens predicted long ago. I’m not sure it’s the fault of either party entirely, but that doesn’t make it right.

I’m assuming that trading Harkless is on the to-do list of management. It’ll be hard because of that contract, but maybe not impossible. If not, they’ll have to be content with a $10.5 million utility player who’s likely to be serviceable given enough minutes, but probably can’t earn them on his own. That’s not a good situation for either party, but the Blazers still have a decent player and Moe is making a bunch of money. Hopefully they both can be content until the situation evolves.

You can send your Mailbag questions to blazersub@gmail.com or tweet them @davedeckard!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com