The Blazers traded a guard on Saturday, and it’s not the one you might think.
Rudy Fernandez stayed put, but Portland sent Jerryd Bayless to New Orleans for a conditional first-round pick, helping to clear a roster spot for newly signed Fabricio Oberto. (Portland had to create two spots, technically, but the other apparently will come by waiving forward Jeff Pendergraph, who is out for the season.)
Fernandez is part of the reason why Bayless was expendable. His strong preseason, as well as that of fellow guards Wesley Matthews and Armon Johnson, helped ease Portland minds that they could part with Bayless. Matthews in particularly is likely to see heavy duty as the team’s backup point guard, even if Brandon Roy does the bulk of the ball-handling in that alignment. Rookie Johnson, a second-rounder who has lapped first-rounder and fellow guard Elliot Williams, may also see greater opportunity.
And what Portland got in return is pretty good. According to the Oregonian, the protection is only top-7 for 2011 and top-8 each of the three years after; since the Hornets aren’t exactly a guaranteed success this year, it appears the Blazers gained a strong asset to utilize in future deals. If Bayless was going to be a fringe rotation player anyway, clearing the roster spot and getting a plum asset makes the deal a no-brainer.
Keep an eye on that asset. Portland, a team that’s widely considered “one player away,” now has another alluring piece to package in a trade should Mr. Right become available. The Blazers have two rookie first-rounders who will hardly play this year, New Orleans' first-rounder, their own, the expiring contracts of Joel Przybilla and Andre Miller and talented young players like Fernandez and Nic Batum. Few teams are better positioned to pounce.
From the New Orleans end, Hornets coach Monty Williams was a Blazers assistant last year and clearly holds Bayless in high esteem, and the Hornets get a decent young player with a low salary. The Hornets project as a prime contender for the West’s final playoff spots, so while they mildly overpaid, it also could end up providing the all-important difference between finishing 8th in the West and landing 9th.
Adding Bayless is important for two reasons. First, his acquisition ends New Orleans' slapstick pursuit of a backup point guard that saw a head-scratching trade with the 76ers for Willie Green and another with the Spurs for D-League vet Curtis Jerrells. It goes without saying that Bayless is a massive upgrade on both. Second, while Bayless isn’t a pure point guard, his shot-creating ability in particular should help one of the league’s weakest second units generate offense.
Ultimately, however, this deal is about the Blazers’ confidence in Matthews and Fernandez allowing them to part with Bayless and get more trade assets for down the road.