He will be missed.
Leading up to this year’s draft I wasn’t expecting much. Sure, Andre Miller had a somewhat desirable expiring contract. But the Blazers would have to get a point guard in return. As I saw it, there weren’t any better candidates on the block. Not to mention that swapping point guards wouldn’t close any of the more immediate gaps on Portland’s roster.
Indeed, the Blazers entered the 2011 NBA Draft with two glaring holes: outside shooting and backup bigs. Neither was filled, but not for lack of opportunity.
Kenneth Faried, a 6’8” power forward from Moorehead State was available when the Blazers took their place at the podium, Thursday night. Praised for his work ethic and ferocity around the basket, DraftExpress projects that, best case, Faried could be a “better rebounding Udonis Haslem.” Worst case, they said, a Lou Amundsen. Both of those comparisons—Haslem or Amundsen—are player-types the Blazers absolutely need.
Last season LaMarcus Aldridge averaged a whopping 43 minutes per game. Down the stretch he often looked exhausted and admitted as much. There were fourth quarters Aldridge simply didn’t have enough gas to take over offensively. (And for now, let’s not even get into the fact that extended minutes increase potential for injury.)
Aldridge’s front-line counterpart, Marcus Camby turned 37 this March. The 2010-11 season marked his 14th in the league. And while injuries have dogged him throughout his career, the little nagging ones seem to be affecting Camby more frequently in these twilight years. Last year he missed 31 games.
Behind Camby and Aldridge there is little else. Greg Oden isn’t a real part of this team until he proves he can stay on the court. Chris Johnson showed signs of impressive physical gifts last season, but basically has a rookie’s experience. Dante Cunningham is gone.
Yet when Draft day rolled around and the ideal pick remained available—one Blazers staff had raved about, no less—Portland went the other way. With the 21st pick they chose a point guard, Nolan Smith. He’s smart, but not a great shooter.
Faried was swept up by the Nuggets with the following pick. Twitter perked up—journalists and experts were high on Faried. Even those who weren’t in Denver professed their love, wishing their respective teams would’ve grabbed him.
There was no such love for Smith. But Portland felt they had to choose him, I believe, because of the trade they were ironing out: Andre Miller for Raymond Felton.
When the news broke I found myself feeling underwhelmed—no way the Blazers would be immediately better with Felton. Miller’s steady hand has been a huge part of Portland’s ability to stay afloat in these last few injury-plagued years. It didn’t always show up in the box scores, but Miller’s veteran experience helped the Blazers wins games.
He knew where the ball needed to go, knew when he needed to push, when to pull back, or when he could steal a quick bucket from a sleeping defender. He never took bad shots, always played hard, never got injured, and was probably the Blazers’ toughest player (save for maybe Gerald Wallace).
Andre Miller, you will be missed.
Interviewed after the trade went down, Yahoo’s Marc Spears shared my sentiments with the Blazers’ radio crew: “He’s a good point guard,” Spears said of Felton. “I just think Andre’s better.”
ESPN’s Trade Machine agreed. Led by John Hollinger’s math, it predicted the trade would cost Portland eight wins.
Now, I understand why the Blazers made the trade. Miller is 35. He’s on the way out. Felton turns 27 this weekend. He’s approaching what should be the prime of his career.
Felton is also approaching a contract year. Should he light it up and get offers from elsewhere, the Blazers could find themselves in deep trouble. If nothing else, knowing they have no second string point guards, it would figure for at least Northwest Division rivals to make toxic offers to inflate Felton’s hit on the Blazers cap.
It’s not all bad. I am excited about at the possibility of a point guard who’s adept at running the pick and roll—hopefully it’ll be able to bail out the Blazers often-sagging, late-game isolation offense. And who knows, maybe Felton’s got a lot more to show.
So all an all, while it’s no savior—and once I get over missing Andre, one of the NBA’s true characters—I’ll be able to reconcile the Felton trade.
But as for passing on Kenneth Faried, I’m at a loss. Downright stupefied. Maybe the Blazers know something about Greg Oden’s health that I don’t…