Saturday, February 02, 2008

Blazers-Knicks (and More on Devin Harris)

I watched every second of the Blazers 94-88 overtime win against the Knicks tonight, in part because I love the Blazers but also because I'm trying to talk myself out of the feeling that this Devin Harris trade has to happen.

On one hand, I guess tonight's game was proof that Portland shouldn't engage in such a drastic trade as the victory underscored the team's ability to win by playing hard and as a group. The Knicks are a sorry basketball team, no doubt, but they were getting after it at the Rose Garden and weren't an easy squad to put away. Plus, the young Blazers were coming off that heart-wrenching loss at the hands of LeBron the other day. Travis Outlaw (rumored to be part of the Harris deal) made a bunch of big plays and Jarrett Jack even came through in the OT. So it was admittedly harder to push for the trade while watching these young guys work like crazy for a come-from-behind win.

On the other hand, this game could be seen another way entirely. Sure, they won, but it was a home game against New York. Should the Blazers really need to struggle to win that type of contest? They had serious problems in three areas tonight: containing quick guards, getting out in transition, and securing defensive rebounds. These are the three biggest issues with this team in general, as well. The rebounding issue was blatant tonight as former Blazer Zach Randolph hit the glass (13 boards) and the Knicks energizer bunny duo of David Lee and Renaldo Balkman combined for a whopping 13 offensive rebounds (four more than the entire Blazers team). However, that problem is the one most likely to be solved in the long run as Greg Oden should provide a terrific presence on the boards.

(By the way, I'd like to note here that Isiah Thomas is a moron for not playing Balkman and Lee 35 minutes a night together at the two forward spots. He's busy carving out minutes for Eddy Curry and Quentin Richardson and the whole time he's got these two whirling dervishes on his bench. Lee and Balkman finally got some run together - 74 minutes - and combined for 25 points and 10-of-16 shooting, 25 rebounds, and 3 blocks. With shoot-first Randolph in the post and shoot first guards Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford on the perimeter, Lee and Balkman are the perfect guys to slot in at the forward spots. I guess it just makes too much sense for Thomas.)

The other two problems - handling quick guards and getting out in transition - are not going away for the Blazers, even after Oden arrives with his shot-blocking ability. Portland had very few transition chances against a poor transition defense and Nate Robinson was able to get to the rim at will in the first half and make several key plays down the stretch simply because he was faster than anyone Portland had to put on him.

These two issues are why I feel so strongly that the Blazers need to make this Devin Harris trade happen. He is lightening fast, long, and underrated defensively. If he's on the court tonight, he completely negates Robinson, helps get the Blazers into transition, and likely helps to blow New York right off the court. (Plus, Brandon Bass would have been a nice answer on the glass.)

I mentioned in a previous post that the Blazers might be able to convince the Nets to take less in exchange for Kidd. If they could swap Webster and Sergio for Outlaw (giving up Jack, Webster, Frye, and Rodriguez), that would be ideal. And while at first glance it seems unlikely that the Nets would consent to that, remember that their primary motivation is the financial flexibility that comes from getting out from under Kidd's contract. As we saw with Memphis today, the talent coming back in a trade is secondary to the dollar issues.

Were such a trade to go through, it would leave the Blazers with the following players, in order of value:

1. Brandon Roy - Oden or no Oden, this guy is the franchise right now.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge - I know most would consider Oden to be the more valuable big man, but the fact is we don't know exactly what Oden is going to do at the pro level, nor do we know how healthy he will be. Aldridge is already showing serious skills and is following the Chris Bosh Instructional Video to the letter. I've said it before, but this team will likely go as far as Aldridge can take them.

3. Greg Oden - Not bad when a franchise center is only the third-most valuable guy on the team.

4. Devin Harris - A top flight defender, one of the fastest guys in the NBA, and a top 10 point guard based on PER ... all at age 24. This guy is a keeper and the answer to title obstacles now (Tony Parker) and later (Chris Paul).

5. Travis Outlaw - He convinced me tonight that he can be this team's starting small forward down the road, which means he's not such a danger to Aldridge's minutes/development. I understand why Portland fans are on the fence about trading him for Harris, but if push came to shove, I think Harris has more value (as you can see).

6. Rudy Fernandez - It is appropriate to slot him here, since he's going to wind up being a Manu-esque 6th Man for the Blazers. His size, handles, athleticism, and playmaking are going to be a godsend next year for a team in need of fast break players. He might actually be more valuable than Outlaw, but I'll go with the known commodity for now.

7. Steve Blake - He's become a deadly shooter this year, which has to frustrate George Karl (if Blake made threes like this last April, the Spurs would have been watching the second round of the playoffs from home). Regardless, he's a gritty player who can spread the floor and would be an ideal guy to back up Harris and even play alongside him when Portland wants to go to that three-guard lineup.

8. Joel Przybilla - Prezbo will make for a very nice backup center.

9. James Jones - He is struggling mightily right now, but he has proved throughout the season that he can be more than three-point specialist ... as long as his shot is falling he tends to come alive in other areas.

10. Brandon Bass - He would have more value this year, plugging the hole left by Frye, but could still help out down the road, even after Oden returns.

11. Taurean Green - I'm not convinced that this guy won't be a legit NBA point guard at some point (sorry for the double negative).

12. Josh McRoberts - Ditto, but substitute the word "forward" in place of "point guard."

Others - Raef LaFrentz (he always be a Portland hero just for being part of the deal that netted Brandon Roy), Darius Miles (I speak for all Blazers fans when I say, please, get rid of him soon), Petteri Koponen, and Joel Freeland.

The best thing about this team is that they would have all the pieces in place and at similar ages, meaning that there would be no need to make moves via free agency. Which is good, because by the time they lock everybody up to long-term deals, the salary cap will be about $110 million. Good thing Paul Allen is rich!

But I think they need speed at the point guard position. They need Harris. Hopefully they can throw the aforementioned group of players and maybe a few draft picks at New Jersey (and hopefully Dallas will panic after the Gasol trade) and get this done while still keeping Outlaw. Hopefully.

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