Originally written February 25, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
Silent but deadly The Portland Trail Blazers have been known to make a splash at the NBA trade deadline. In 2010, they acquired Marcus Camby, in 2011, they complete a lopsided trade for Gerald Wallace and in 2012, they started from scratch, ridding themselves of Wallace, Camby, Greg Oden and then-head coach Nate McMillan. This time around, the team stayed relatively quiet, yet they still managed to score an ‘A’ by bringing in a solid backup point guard and keeping around a player who has been the unsung hero of the 2012-13 season. Whether or not the Blazers make the playoffs has yet to be determined, but with Eric Maynor officially on board, life just got a little bit easier for rookie point guard Damian Lillard. The Move Eric Maynor will make life easier for rookie point guard Damian Lillard. (Photo: AP) It’s no secret that the Trail Blazers’ bench has been awful this year. They average the fewest points among any second unit in the NBA, and they’re the reason the starters have been forced to play so many minutes. At the 2013 trade deadline, the team brought in a competent point guard in Eric Maynor, and they managed to score him for practically nothing. The downside is that Maynor is coming off a season-ending ACL injury just a year ago. The word “ACL” puts Rip City on edge instantly, but the fans have to realize that this guy isn’t expected to be the star of the team; a la Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. What Maynor has going for him in Portland’s offense is that he’s a pass-first point guard. If head coach Terry Stotts wants to experiment with Maynor playing alongside Damian Lillard, there’s no reason he shouldn’t give it a shot. However, Lillard is playing the fourth-most minutes in the entire NBA, so the more-likely scenario is that Maynor alleviates the pressure and allows Lillard to catch his breath in the race toward the playoffs. Does It Get Any Better? The only way the deal could have been made better would have been by cutting Nolan Smith—not Ronnie Price. Ronnie Price had been a mentor and a friend to Lillard, while Nolan Smith has struggled to make basic plays on a regular basis. It’s never easy to let go of a first-round pick, but Portland would have been better off letting go of Smith and keeping Price around, even though Price’s ankle has been a problem since before the year even started. The Non-move As the Feb. 21 deadline was approaching, the player whom everybody was talking about was J.J. Hickson. His name was being floated about in rumors for weeks, but the problem was that a substantial offer never once came to surface. Portland ultimately kept their starting center, and it was the best decision they could have made. J.J. Hickson has been the unsung hero for Portland this season. (Photo: AP) If the Blazers have any aspirations of making the postseason, moving J.J. Hickson would not have been the way to do it. He has the fourth-most double-doubles in the league, he’s the only consistent rebounder on the team and his energy is unmatched on a nightly basis. Ridding the roster of Hickson would have been a clear sign that the playoffs were out, and that the team was simply hoping for a spot back in the lottery. The other side of the argument is that Hickson’s expiring contract could have brought in a valuable long-term piece. There’s more than one team out there willing to trade talent for cap space, and Portland missed an opportunity to capitalize on its most-tradable asset. But here’s the problem—there was never a deal worth considering. Portland never received an offer in the form of a solid long-term piece—at least to the best of our knowledge—and it wouldn’t have made sense to move Hickson just for the sake of moving him. His long-term prospect with the team is still undecided, but even if Neil Olshey opts to let him go, that creates cap space to strengthen both the bench and the low-post positions next season. The Blazers deserve credit for their execution on draft day, and whether the postseason is around the corner or not, they’ve set themselves up for the future without sacrificing talent along the way. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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