We’ve finally made it. The very last sanctioned activity of the NBA as we know it has been completed, and now we are left with many things to ponder as the offseason creep begins and the protracted labor negotiations inch toward a positive conclusion and barrel headlong towards a work stoppage.
Leading up to draft day, there was a definite sense that change was in the air when it came to Portland’s roster. 2010-11 left the Blazers shy of some of their unstated pre-season goals, the conference finals, and saw the gradual demise of a once great player, the continued struggle of a player with an indefinite amount of greatness, and the exposure of an offense with more than just a few glaring deficiencies.
In the NBA, there are two times when big moves can be made. In-season, this time is the trade deadline. Out of season, it’s the draft. Just like the lead-up to the trade deadline, the days before the draft are chalk-a-block with rumor and conjecture. When the dust of the 2011 NBA Draft settled, the Blazers had made some changes, bringing in some new faces both young and not so young.
When professional basketball resumes in the Rose City, the home team won’t quite be the “new look” Blazers, but they will have something of a different look. Let’s break it down a little shall we?
I’ll start with the good, because frankly I think Portland did very little that I would classify as good. In fact, I think the only good thing the Blazers did was something they didn’t do.
The day before the draft a rumor was circling that Portland was knee deep in a deal with the San Antonio Spurs to acquire Tony Parker. The trade was rumored to include Andre Miller, Nicolas Batum, and a pick for Parker and Richard Jefferson. The deal died in transit, and although Dre ended up on the block eventually, Nicolas Batum will be a Blazer in NBA season TBD.
This trade breaks down one step further. As was speculated, Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum were the offer for Parker, and San Antonio was ready to pull the trigger only under the condition of Portland taking on Richard Jefferson too. In my opinion Batum and Dre for Parker was a bit much, but doable considering that Parker might just be the kind of point guard that could put the Blazers over the top. But add RJ, and this deal became a lose-lose for Portland.
Jefferson’s best years are behind him, meaning he probably doesn’t make the Blazers any better, and he’s cost vastly exceeds his value. Should Portland have acquired Jefferson, then try to re-trade him, they wouldn’t have gotten back nearly the value they probably could have gotten from Nicolas Batum by himself.
Stepping away from this deal was the best thing the Blazers did during the pre-draft trading/rumor frenzy. That’s just another way of saying that Portland didn’t do much good.
Let’s table the Ander Miller situation for a moment, and focus our attention on the actual drafting Portland did. Coming into the draft it was clear what the Blazers needed. Bigs and shooters.
I would say that more than anything they needed bigs. Marcus Camby is 37 and has a limited time left as a contributing player. Greg Oden is Greg Oden, meaning he could become a dominant center or he could spend the rest of his career on the sidelines in a suit waving at RG fans over the Jumbotron. LaMarcus Aldridge played nearly 40 minutes a game last season, logging the most total minutes of his career, and bringing in somebody to spell LA could help to build on the strides LaMarcus made in what was really his breakout season.
As far as shooters go, it’s pretty common knowledge that Portland is without a knockdown perimeter shooter, and that the team’s inability to spread the floor did the Blazers in during their opening round loss to Dallas.
So, bigs and shooters was what the Blazers needed. They got a shooter, but they didn’t get a big. And considering that the shooter they did get came with the 51st pick, I might go as far as to say that Portland didn’t get either of the things they needed.
The Blazers left fan favorite and rebounding machine Kenneth Faried on the board, and also left a couple of shooters on the board too. Guys like Shelvin Mack, Tyler Honeycutt, and Marshon Brooks were never really on Portland’s radar, but they all were taken after Portland’s 21st pick, and they all might have been able to help the Blazers stretch defenses.
Not making an effort to select a player that could directly address a roster hole is not a good thing in my opinion.
So Portland didn’t get a big with their first pick. What they did get was Nolan Smith. Those Duke fans already know plenty about Nolan Smith. For those that don’t, here’s a primer. Three-year starter at point guard, 2010 NCAA National Champion, 2011 ACC Player of the Year, 2011 first team All-American, 2011 first time All-ACC, 2011 All-ACC Defensive Team. Not bad. However, Smith’s ability to make the transition from the college game to the pro game is in question.
This isn’t the first time the Blazers have selected a point guard, and as I’ve said before, their reputation for developing these players is less than stellar. Nolan Smith could be the exception, the one PG prospect that blossoms in Portland into a legitimate starter and contributor, or he could be another point guard of the future to not live up to the title.
It’s telling, though, that although Nolan Smith was his team’s number one point guard for much of his career, he wasn’t the first Duke PG selected in the draft. That title went to number one overall pick Kyrie Irving.
The Blazers used their 51st pick on Ohio State’s Jon Diebler. This is the move that on the surface addresses a roster need. I say on the surface, because who knows where Diebler will fit with Portland’s roster. As a second round pick he’s going to have to earn a roster spot, and without a summer league and in a lockout shortened season he isn’t going to have much of a chance to prove want he can do in game situations.
Diebler holds high school scoring records in the state of Ohio, three-point field goal records for Ohio State and the Big Ten, and is on the list of top-20 all-time in the NCAA for three-pointers made. He is a shooter, that’s for sure. The question is, is Diebler going to be more Luke Babbitt or is he going to be a Kyle Korver?
Remember, Luke Babbitt was taken 16th overall, not 51st. Diebler did knock down a total of three more deep balls in his college career than the aforementioned Korver. It took him 16 more games to get that advantage though.
A Farewell to Dre
The Blazers did more on draft day than bring in a couple of four-year players at two of the NCAA’s better institutions, they traded away an institution; maybe not an institution in Portland but an institution in the NBA.
In 2008-09, the one thing missing from Portland’s 54-win roster was a steady point guard. Steve Blake had his moments, he could knock down a key three here and there, but his control of the offense was suspect at best.
That season the Blazers were swept 2-0 by the 41-41 Philadelphia 76ers. The second of the two matchups between Philly and Portland was in the RG, and that night Andre Miller took the Blazers to pieces.
Dre finished with 27 points, and 10 rebounds, and demonstrated just what it is in his game that makes him so dangerous and so good. In 2008-09, Andre started 82 games, had a phenomenal six-game series against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic, and notched 12 double-doubles and two triple-doubles. Dre looked like the missing piece when Portland signed him as a free agent before the start of 2009-10.
Unfortunately it was not to be. Maybe because he felt like the unwanted “other” free agent after Hedo Turkoglu courted the city of Portland then fled north of the boarder. Maybe because he and Nate McMillan had differing opinions of how the point guard position should be played or who should be playing it. Whatever the reason, Andre’s first year in Portland was rough to say the least. He had moments of brilliance, 52 against Dallas, but overall Dre’s 2009-10 was somewhat underwhelming.
Andre turned it around in 2010-11, and that makes this trade so much harder to deal with. Early in the season Dre was the glue, and late in the year he really came out of his shell. Establishing himself as a devoted cheerleader when he wasn’t on the floor, making an effort to say and do all the right things in eyes of the media, and emerging as a hands down fan favorite, Andre was far and away one of the highlights of the 2010-11 season.
Two moments we won’t forget: Dre’s pass at the rim to Nic Batum to beat the Spurs in the first of Portland’s late season epic comebacks, and Andre’s reaction following the final horn after game four of the Blazer’s first round playoff series.
Part of being a fan is dealing with this kind of thing. No player is more important than the franchise. Although I think Andre could still have helped Portland, and I will miss him for more than just his old man game, he’s gone now, and the faster we move on the better it will be for everyone.
Raymond Felton is a player that most likely can step right in and play. He’ll have the benefit that Dre didn’t of being the starter from day one, so we can hope for a smoother transition. Felton has bounced around the league in his short career, a red flag to be sure, and his fitness level hasn’t always been top shelf. That being said, the upside of a lateral move, which Dre for Felton most definitely is, is even if Portland didn’t get better at the one spot, they at least didn’t get worse.
The End of the Rudy Fernandez Era
I was in the Rose Garden for the debut of Rudy Fernandez. It was the opening game of pre-season; Portland played the Sacramento Kings.
Rudy was coming off an outstanding Olympic performance that included 22 points in the gold medal game complete with a dunk on Dwight Howard, and had put on something of a clinic in Portland’s annual Fan Fest. The anticipation for Rudy was greater even than it was for Greg Oden, who was also making his debut in the pre-season opener against the Kings.
Rudy didn’t disappoint. Those that were there will remember the passes, the shooting, and more than anything the flair that Rudy brought to that game. In fact, Rudy’s rookie year was full of those types of nights. But it was fleeting.
Rudy’s second season was shortened by injuries, and in the second half of 2009-10 Rudy began to exhibit the attitude that diminished him in the eyes of the fans, and hastened his draft day exit from the Blazers.
2010-11 was something of a disaster for Rudy. It started poorly and ended poorly, and couldn’t be saved by a night or two in the middle that saw Rudy playing at or near his rookie level.
So it’s good riddance to bad rubbish when it comes to Rudy, or so it would seem with fans. But in my eyes it’s somewhat of a disappointment. I’m not against the trade of Rudy; it needed to be done if only to make a clean break. I’m disappointed because I feel like the Blazers squandered one of the most promising rookie debuts they’d had in some time.
Remember the love Portland had for Rudy? Remember the talk about Rudy being the next Manu Ginobili? I don’t know if it’s on Rudy, or if it’s on the Blazers, but either way dealing a player that could have been a big-time contributor and not getting anything back is hard for me to spin as an out and out positive.
And In Conclusion
Portland’s draft has not been given favorable reviews. I agree. I’d give the Blazers a C at best, grading on a curve since very few teams made the types of moves or picks that will change their overall fate all that much.
Losing Dre hurts, but Portland fans have been dinged time and again for overvaluing their players, and if you’re being honest you have to know that Andre Miller wasn’t the future for this team. Is Raymond Felton? Probably not. But at nine years younger than Andre, there’s at least a chance.
Is Nolan Smith the future? Unlikely. Smith will have the advantage of being a brand new point guard that Nate McMillan can mold and shape in his own image. McMillan is known for being hard on point guards. Maybe the chance to have a young one from the beginning will limit some of the disputes and miscommunications that plagued McMillan’s relationship with Andre Miller.
Is Jon Diebler the future? No.
Basketball might be back by Christmas, it might be back after New Years; it might not be back at all. Portland has already gone through a trying offseason, and there are still big strides to be made. At the very least, we now know which guys we’ve got and which guys we don’t.