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Rodney Hood and the murkiness of the Trail Blazers’ long-term future

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Rodney Hood is another in a long string of half measures that won’t convince Damian Lillard to sign an extension next summer, but also don’t prepare for a post-Lillard era.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers

Earlier this week the Trail Blazers acquired a marginal rotation player who was struggling with his former team but has potential for a change-of-scenery bump once he gets some minutes with Damian Lillard, Terry Stotts, and the Rose Garden fans.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Rodney Hood joins Seth Curry, Maurice Harkless, Shabazz Napier, Jusuf Nurkic, and others in a multi-year lineage of general manager Neil Olshey reclamation projects.

If history is any indication, Hood will likely improve with the opportunity for rotation minutes on a playoff team and settle in as a mid-rotation player. His impact will probably fall into the “serviceable” middle ground that we’ve seen from most of Portland’s other mid-level veteran acquistions like Napier or Ed Davis. The good news is that he probably won’t be a second coming of Noah Vonleh, but you shouldn’t pre-order any “Hood Hysteria” t-shirts either.

In a 30-game vacuum, trading two second round picks for Hood is fine. The Blazers are better this week than they were last week and if Hood can rise above the clutter of the rest of Portland’s wing rotation and outright claim the starting small forward position then this trade is a short-term home run.

But Rodney Hood doesn’t do much to answer questions about the long-term direction of the franchise; rather, he’s another in a long string of half measures that won’t convince Damian Lillard to sign an extension next summer, but also don’t prepare for a post-Lillard era.

Hood’s Future in Portland

The Blazers will not hold Hood’s Bird Rights this summer so his long-term impact on the team could be limited. Olshey will have two options to retain Hood if he does explode and become a free agent commodity: 1) offer a contract of $4.2 million, or 2) utilize the taxpayer mid-level exception to make an offer north of $5 million.

This places Blazers fans in the awkward position of hoping that Hood is good but not great so that he doesn’t get any outside offers and can be retained without sacrificing one of the only ways to sign a veteran free agent this summer. It is also a likely hint into what kind of impact the front office expects Hood to make.

Win Now or Prepare for 2021?

The best possible realistic long-term scenario of this trade is that Hood will acquit himself well, re-sign with the Blazers this summer, continue to improve next season, and hold value as an underpaid role player in the mythical consolidation trade that brings in a true needle-mover. But that outcome is not a sure thing — it would require a domino effect of on-court and off-court circumstances coming together.

The worst possible realistic outcome is that he plays somewhat well and departs in free agency this summer, costing the Blazers two draft picks in the post-Lillard’s current contract era for no long-term gain.

Hood’s uncertain future impact highlights the duality of Olshey’s decisions. On the one hand, the Blazers seem committed to winning now, as demonstrated by using draft picks to trade for Hood, re-signing Nurkic, and hanging onto Al-Farouq Aminu. But on the other hand they seemed to have one eye on a post-Dame future when they let Ed Davis walk for nothing and turned five draft picks over two years into a handful of long-term prospects with little immediate impact.

The end result is a Blazers roster that has a better shot at making the second round in 2019 than they did last season, but still faces significant uncertainty as they prepare for Lillard’s next contract. Olshey and the team’s ownership have not begun stockpiling draft picks in the event of a 2021 rebuild, but they also haven’t worked to improve around the margins and set up a needle-moving trade that could raise the team’s ceiling toward conference finals contender.

Hood might, eventually, help with that all-in trade, but as of now he’s just a reminder of the question marks swirling around the franchise’s future.