A New Point
We all knew that addressing the point-guard position was one of the primary goals the Trail Blazers had heading into the NBA Draft on Thursday night. After all was said and done Portland added two horses to the backcourt, and also said goodbye to a couple of fan favorites.
Andre Miller has been huge for the Blazers the last two years and it's not easy to see him go. But, I think most people realize that he wasn't the long-term solution. Because of his contract, and the fact that he's still effective, he was tradeable.
One of Andre's biggest fans, Nate McMillan, put it simply late Thursday when everything was winding down. "We addressed needs," he said.
Raymond Felton, who has ties to more than one Blazer, was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the Blazers for Andre, and has basically been handed the keys. There won't be any question about who the starter will be. That'll be good for Portland, and for Felton, given his circumstance in Denver, it'll be good for him too.
McMillan always called Miller "a pro," and reserved the same kind of comments for Felton. He also had the input of Bernie Bickerstaff, who coached Felton in Charlotte. Gerald Wallace played with Felton in Charlotte, and so that's another benefit.
Felton is a little stronger than Andre, a better defender, and a better outside shooter. And, he's a lot younger. That's probably one of the biggest positives. Felton also knows how to play a half-court game, and certainly can handle an up-tempo system. McMillan said he admires Felton's ability to run both systems.
News of this trade leaked out just as Portland was making it's first-round pick at number 21. It was widely speculated that Kenneth Faried, if still on the board, would be Portland's choice. It was no secret how much they liked him. So, when they selected Duke's Nolan Smith, we felt something could be up. We figured it was the indicator that the Miller/Felton deal was on. Well, it was on, but we quickly found out that there would be no swapping of picks 21 and 22, as expected.
Since the selection, I've heard it mentioned that perhaps Smith went higher than many expected, and that perhaps that's somehow an indication that Portland overvalued his services. As Buchanan explained after the draft, "I don't get in to where particular writers have a guy slotted to go. For me it's simply identify the guy you want and go get him."
Smith, a four-year player, was the National Player of the Year according the Fox Sports, Yahoo, and NBC Sports. He was first-team All-America, the ACC Player of the Year, and the ACC Tournament MVP. He also helped Duke to a national championship during his junior year.
Perhaps most impressive about Smith, who's a combo guard, is that he slid over and handled the point guard duties last season with Kyrie Irving went down with an injury. The Blue Devils didn't miss a beat, and according to some, were perhaps more efficient with Smith running the show.
Smith caught McMillan's eye when he was a member of the U.S. Men's College Select Team last summer. Earlier this month, Nate and his staff were very high on Smith following his workout for the team. They were especially attracted to his leadership skills, character, basketball I.Q., and toughness.
Along with seeing Miller go, the Trail Blazers also said goodbye to Rudy Fernandez Thursday night. Another tough decision, but probably something that fans understand. Rudy had a solid three-year run with the Blazers, and helped the team to some very exciting moments. He's now off to Dallas.
It became clear to me very early on Thursday morning, while meeting with Buchanan, that the Blazers would have some very tough decisions to make. They were in the driver's seat in a couple of deals, and at least one would have drastically changed the makeup of this team. And, from what I understand, would have been very tough to take financially.
As it is, the Blazers maintained a good part of their core, got younger, and addressed a need for now and into the future. They also didn't trade Nic Batum, even though they had plenty of opportunties. They fielded a number of requests for Nic, but never actively shopped him, or made outgoing calls that put him in play.
Kudos to Buchanan, who was behind the wheel in this draft. Paul Allen challenges ideas, loves a spirited debate, and clearly has his own opinions, but in the end trusts his basketball people to make the final call. I've always heard it that way, from everyone who has spent time in the war room. Chad said this year was no different.
By the way, Buchanan and his wife Melanie had a baby girl on Monday. Chad told me Thursday morning he hadn't seen her in two days, and that he spent all but about one hour at his desk Wednesday night.
Even though he can perhaps get a little more time with the family now, he's far from done working on this Blazer roster, he says. Thursday they addressed the backcourt. Now, it's on to the frontcourt.
More to come....