Monday, February 28, 2005

It's a Difficult Time to be a Blazer Fan

That pretty much says it all.

It's been awfully hard to watch or write anything about the Blazers that's positive over the past week. I think many of us were watching the on-court debacle and getting through the first 2/3 of this season by telling ourselves "this season appears to be lost -- but we've got some very attractive trade assets, in the form of quality players and expiring contracts. We've got an imbalanced roster that needs serious adjustments, but we have some very nice pieces -- both in place and as possible trade bait. Though the team isn't playing well now, with a few tweaks, they could be very good and I'm excited to see what the trade deadline has in store."

And? Nothing.

Nothing! How is this possible? I'm truly disappointed at the Blazers front office. Not a single deal was made.

I don't buy the argument that we'll be able to pull off a major sign-and-trade once the season is over. None of our expiring contracts are attractive enough players to warrant that. We still don't have a shooting guard, we still don't have a backup point guard for next season, we still haven't signed Pryzbilla to an extension, and we've got only the mid-level exception to get all of this done.

Rumors had Portland making a very nice offer to Milwaukee for Michael Redd. The Bucs were confident that they could re-sign him, so they backed out. Was there no backup plan? How can you have all of your eggs in one basket in this type of situation? Give us something. Anything. Even if it's minor. At least show us that you care. This basketball team is in dire, dire need of a shooting guard who can knock down a jumpt shot. We've needed this for two and a half years. What more needs to happen before the upper management makes something happen? We've been waiting to make final judgements on John Nash's job as General Manager for a year and a half. Even when the Rasheed trade was made, the common sentiment was "it will be very interesting to see what Shareef brings us." Apparently, that's going to be nothing.

What are Blazer fans left to look forward to now? The existing team -- at home, mind you -- just snuck out a one-point victory over one of the worst teams in teh league. They're 0-2 against the second-worst team in the league. Zach Randolph, Darius Miles, and Theo Ratliff -- the three big contract extensions from last season -- have all taken their respective lumps this season ... Zach's been injury-prone and is starting to gain a selfish rap, be it fair or not. Ratliff has been flat-out ineffective all season long and has lost his starting job to Joel Pryzbilla. And Darius Miles looks uninterested on the court and is blatantly mailing it in for the season. Four turnovers against Atlanta in 21 minutes. And we've got $35 million in expiring contracts that will save Paul Allen some salary money, but because of salary cap rules won't allow the team to replace them. The team's message is clear: they care more about the bottom line than they do wins and loses.

My man Bill Simmons from ESPN.com's Page 2 said it best:
Here's what they have now: A lottery team with Ratliff signed for $45 million through 2008; Miles signed for six years, $48 million; Randolph signed for an $86 million extension that doesn't kick in until next season; $35 million in contracts (Stoudamire, Van Exel and Shareef) getting wiped off after this summer; and no cap space to sign a marquee guy. They should have to pay reparations to Blazers fans for everything that's happened over the past five years.

So when does my check arrive in the mail?

***** *****

The team is in utter shambles, both on the court and off. And as if it weren't enough that the front-office did nothing to address the situation, the veterans are still getting all of the playing time. I can't figure this out for the life of me.

More on this later.

However ... forget the Blazers for a moment. Let's talk about real basketball teams: teams that are proactive, teams that give their young players opportunities to get playing time, and more importantly, teams who's front offices upgrade their team's rosters by making trades. Here is a look at a few of the major deals that went down.

1. Chris Webber, Matt Barnes and Michael Bradley to the Sixers for Corliss Williamson, Brian Skinner and Kenny Thomas

Yikes. This deal shocked everyone. I'm sure you've read plenty about it by now, so I'll say this ... if Sacramento wanted to get rid of Chris Webber because they thought he slowed down the offense, he didn't get along with Stojakovic, he held back Mike Bibby's open-court abilities, he breaks down easily ... fine. I can live with that. But that's the best that you can do? If I'm a Kings fan, I'm angry right now. Sacramento got some nice bench players in return, but they didn't get any cap relief, took back an awful contract (Thomas), and couldn't even manage to pry one of the Sixers' attractive young assets like Kyle Korver or Samuel Dalembert from them. Just a bizarre trade. Winner: Sixers

2. Warriors acquire Baron Davis from New Orleans for Dale Davis and Speedy Claxton.

Obvious salary dump by New Orleans, and a very nice pickup for Golden State. Along with Jason Richardson, Davis now joins the most explosive backcourt in the NBA. Add those two to Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Nikolai Tskitishvili (whom they acquired in another nice deal, for Eduardo Najera) and a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft ... that's a nice little team they're starting to put together. Granted, the chance that Davis spends the last five years of the contract on and off the injured list because of his bad knees or back is 50-50, but Golden State had to make this deal. New Orleans on the other hand will have a boatload of cap room this offseason ... but will they be able to spend it? Winner: Golden State

3. Celtics trade Gary Payton, Michael Stewart, Tom Gugliotta and a first-round pick to Atlanta for Antoine Walker

Nice move for the Celtics. I'll leave the commentary on this deal once again to my man Bill Simmons over at espn.com:

Here's my question: Why not? What did they have to lose? This was a .500 team that seemed to be getting worse by the week. After Philly fleeced Sacramento for Webber, there was about a 100-percent chance that the Sixers were taking the Atlantic. So why not roll the dice? GP had been subpar since the holidays -- his FG% was down, he seemed disinterested at times, and he couldn't have stopped Red Auerbach off the dribble. Antoine will be taking the minutes of Mark Blount, Jiri Welsch and Tom Gugliotta -- in other words, that's an ENORMOUS upgrade for 30 minutes a game.

My personal opinion? This trade might be good in the short-term for the Celitcs, but it also exposes Danny Ainge for what he is: A lost, in-over-his-head GM who doesn't appear to have a clear plan for building his team. Not only has he traded away and then reacquired 'Toine, he's managed to saddle himself with LaFrenz's awful contract in the meantime. Nice work. However, there's a catch ... rumor has it that after Atlanta buys him out, GP might be right back with the Celtics. How is that allowed? Winner: Boston.

4. Isaiah Thomas -- the worst GM in Sports

Relax, Blazer fans -- as long as Isaiah Thomas is around, we aren't the worst-off sports fans in the NBA. There is a team out there with a worse General Manager. Isaiah must be on the take. That's the only explanation. He trades a good backup center for an undersized power forward, adding to his team which already had two other undersized power forwards. Oh, he also relieved the Spurs of an awful contract and helped them bolster their front line for the playoff stretch. Maybe Isaiah just hates Phoenix for saddling him with Stephon Marbury and this was his revenge. In the other bungling, panicked trade that Thomas made, he sent Moochie Norris and Vin Baker to the Rockets for Mo Taylor. Taylor is -- you guessed it -- another undersized power forward. Nice work, Isaiah. And how about the Rockets? They did a nice job of picking up two decent role-player PG's to address their biggest need. Winner: Anyone who trades with the Knicks.

5. Dallas acquiring Keith Van Horn from Milwaukee for Alan Henderson, Calvin Booth, and cash.

Nice work, Mark Cuban. Yes, they're vastly overpaying ($16 million) for a role player, and yes he's under contract for next season. But Keith Van Horn will add a very nice compliment of shooting and rebounding to the Mavericks, and his game fits their style of play very well. Say what you will about Cuban, he clearly doesn't mind overpaying when a player produces. As for Milwaukee, they clear a bit more money to try and re-sign Michael Redd this offseason. Winner: Dallas.

What do you think? E-mail me your thoughts on any of the deals that went down this trade deadline and we'll put some of the more interesting responses up on the site.

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