Not the way we intended
Prior to the 2010-2011 season, the Portland Trailblazers were a team with a balance of youth, athleticism, size, depth and expiring contracts coming off back to back 50 win years. Fast forward to 2011 and 50 games into the regular season, the Trailblazers are 0.5 games behind 8th place in the Western Conference. While it is understandable how the Blazers have reached this point - mainly injuries to Brandon Roy/Greg Oden; poor 3 pt shooting and the lack of credible backup pg and sf, one can't help it but opine why this Blazer team can't repeat w/ 50 wins like the Blazer teams last and two season's ago. The answer is simple, this isn't the Blazer team of last season or two seasons ago. The buck can attributed to higher level personnel - coaches and general manager.
Before the '10-11 season opener the Blazers traded Martell Webster for Luke Babbit (#16th pick) and Ryan Gomes (Gomes would be waived shortly after), the termination of GM Kevin Pritchard shortly replaced by Rich Cho, and the trade of Bayless to NO for a future conditional first round pick (protected through the first 7 selection). As is, it's not a stretch to say that on this day of February 2011, things have not gone the way the Blazers intended. In order to move on and embrace the future, one must acknowledge the past and to do so the Blazers must examine, understand and take the proactive actions to ensure that misguided decisions don't become a recurring theme. Put simply, the Blazers must learn from the lessons of past mistakes.
Martell Webster was traded for the #16th pick Luke Babbit, a sharp shooter from Nevada, and Ryan Gomes, who would later be waived. Babbit was expected to make an immediate contribution to the team as a solid shooter (40% from 3pt, 50% for 2s and 90% from ft) and a player who can play the 3 and 4. Since his draft, Babbit has played insignificant minutes and has spent a stint in the NBADL. Meanwhile Webster, who plays the 2 and 3 for Min, is averaging 10.6 ppg and 3.2 rpg in 24 min of play; similar numbers he was posting for Portland. The lost of Webster leaves the Blazers lacking another shooter, athlete and wing defender - shooting and guard defense being current shortcomings of this year's team. Suffice it to say, things have not gone the way the Blazers intended trading away Webster.
The deal involving Jerryd Bayless to NO for a future 1st round pick was to make way for Armon Johnson, the thought to be pg of the future, who impressed head coach Nate Mcmillan and his staff in camp and the preseason games. Bayless was later dealt from NO to TOR in part of Stojakovic's salary dump. After a promising start, Johnson has regressed and is currently in the D-league. The lost of Bayless (a 2008 #11th pick) leaves the Blazers devoid of a scorer who can run the point. With the teams propensity for injury - the Blazers certainly can use Bayless's ability to create his own shot and for others.
The underlining lesson in the deals Portland made leading to the exodus of Webster and Bayless is that of wishful thinking (betting on the potential of Babbit and Johnson) at the cost of depth, stability and versatility. Let's first examine the cost. While no one can prognostic the rash of injuries to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden; one can prepare for them. Having Marcus Camby and Joel Pryzbilla account for GO. And of course Webster and Bayless would account for B Roy. Unlike Camby and Pryzbilla who mainly play the 5, Bayless and Webster (both with at least 3 yrs of quality experience) play the 1, 2 and 3 respectively. In addition both are still young and have plenty of potential.
Now onto the rationale behind such moves starting with the deal involving Webster. #16 pick Luke Babbit was thought to come in and make an immediate impact as he is a solid shooter who can play both the 3 and 4, according to coach Nate. Two major red flags were overlooked when making this decision. First is the glaring and obvious lack of athleticism and defense. Second was that Babbit plays in a weak conference so his collegiate performance has to be seen as overrated. When was the last time an unheralded college player from a weak conference enter the NBA and made an immediate impact. Even if Babbit was a diamond in the rough, it would take at least years before he developed into his potential.
Jerryd Bayless was traded to NO for a conditional first round pick and to make room for Armon Johnson. Johsnon got off to a good start and seem destined to be the Blazer's future starting pg. He ran into a stretch where he played lost and confused and never seemed to recover relegating him to a permanent seat on the bench and eventually the D-league. Although Patty Mills, Johnson's replacement, has performed satisfactory, he lacks defense and is hardly any teams premier choice as a backup pg. The managerial failure of placing such high hopes on rookie Armon Johnson rests w/ the coaching staff and GM Rich Cho's hyper value and assessment of preseason games. The best solution would have been to let Armon develop and compete with Bayless as the backup pg. Should any scenario occur during the season - Roy staying healthy, Bayless not fitting in or Armon playing superb; then that would be the optimal time to make a deal involving Bayless. Chances are the Blazers would have gotten more in return if not the same (the way NO is playing that pick will be in the late 1st round at best). Bottom line, sending Bayless off prior to the start of the season was just way too premature and leaves the Blazers w/ less not more options, a poor decision on behalf of Rich Cho.
All in all the decisions leading up to this year by the Blazers have been poor to average at best. The draft being a disappointment would be an understatement Mr. Allen would even admit (E Williams, A Johnson and L Babbit). Rich Cho's first on the job decision, a major one at that, would also be a disappointment - an understatement Mr. Cho would even admit. However at the end of darkness is an inevitable light either through high drafts via extreme inferiority or quick corrective action from lessons learned. Three expiring contracts and deep pockets of Mr. Allen translate to the Blazers procuring players and draft picks in fashion that allows them to rebuild and contend provided the right action is taken. If so this team will be ever so malleable and ultra competitive in a league that is evolving day by day - making them Trailblazers indeed!