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Blazers Lose Asset Control, Gain Narrative Advantage with Powell Acquisition

The Trail Blazers successfully avoided Gary Trent Jr’s restricted free agency by trading for Norman Powell.

Miami Heat v Toronto Raptors Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers deadline addition of Raptors guard Norman Powell in exchange for a package that included Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood offers up a clouded forecast for Portland’s future. On paper, Powell figures to boost coach Terry Stotts’ options and rotations this season. By jettisoning Trent, Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has effectively avoided a repeat of a Crabbe-esque restricted free agency saga.

That decision to punt on Trent’s restricted free agency might be the most noteworthy part of Thursday’s transaction. The potential framing for the 2021 offseason has completely shifted as a result.

Powell, who should opt to hit unrestricted free agency after a career year, controls his own destiny. If the former Raptors guard decides to sign a lucrative offer elsewhere, spurning Portland in the process, the Blazers organization can chalk it up to Powell’s decision as a free agent.

From a framing standpoint, keeping Trent through the remainder of his rookie deal would present a drastically different set of hurdles. Unlike a potential Powell scenario, the Blazers would have the option to match any offer Trent received. If Portland decided to pass on matching that offer, Trent would depart to his new team.

Both of those hypothetical outcomes result in Powell and Trent leaving the Blazers. But the optics of each situation are drastically different. By not matching a restricted free agent offer, it could be perceived that the Blazers let Trent walk for nothing. As I mentioned earlier, Powell departing could be framed as the independent action of a free agent. In regards to overall asset control, the Blazers are in a much weaker position with Powell. When it comes to narrative, the opposite is now true.

Rapid-Fire Final Thoughts

  • I would be wary of anyone speaking in definitive terms in the aftermath of this trade. Anyone who speaks with absolute authority that Trent was not going to be retained might be struggling to navigate the line between actual actions that the Blazers had at their disposal and narrative control.
  • In regards to the on court product, I think Powell is an upgrade. During his time with the Raptors, he fulfilled several different roles. This year, he appears to have put it all together. While size might still be an issue in the postseason, the Blazers finally have a decent pool of wing talent to pull from when assembling opponent-specific game plans.
  • Unlike Trevor Ariza, Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV, the Blazers mercifully traded Rodney Hood right before the final buzzer at the trade deadline. The money on Hood’s second year is non-guaranteed, which could have opened up the window for him to change hands in rapid succession if the Blazers and Raptors agreed to a trade in advance of the deadline. There is still a chance that he hits the buyout market, but he will at least avoid the trade-fest that Stauskas endured two years ago.