Gerald Wallace for Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks, and two future first round picks. If we reduce the trade between the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers to that simple form, both teams did well for themselves. The playoff team acquired a talented piece to complement their already existing core, and the rebuilding club cleared cap space, saved money, and acquired draft picks. Yet if we bring that fuzzy mess into focus, questions of short and long-term strategy seem to loom over any fulfillment of those teams’ general, immediate goals.
Portland needs to restructure their team around LaMarcus Aldridge, and acquiring Wallace isn’t too bad of a start. He’s an incredibly versatile defender who should give the Blazers a lot of lineup flexibility. However, for Portland to field their most effective lineups — say, Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Wallace, and Aldridge, for example — they necessarily have to play Wallace at a position he’s averse to playing and put Aldridge in a full-time position battling against opposing centers. Such a lineup decision isn’t inherently bad, but it does introduce quite a few questions. The biggest may be what exactly becomes of Marcus Camby upon his return; the positional fluidity of Wallace, Batum, and Aldridge creates a ton of interesting possibilities, but Camby has historically made such a profound defensive impact with the Blazers that it would be difficult to deny him major minutes.
However, assuming that Wallace introduces any kind of minute/positional crunch could be wishful thinking. Wallace’s production has declined rather sharply this season, primarily because of his complacency within Charlotte’s offense. His field goal percentage had fallen to the lowest of his Bobcats career (.433), in part because Wallace is taking (and missing) more jumpers than ever before, and getting to the rim less and less. This season’s Wallace has not been an accurate representation of his Bobcats career; he’s capable of more, but whether he’s willing to provide that dynamic slashing for the Blazers has yet to be determined. In principle, Wallace could be an interesting piece for Portland. But if we take him at face value based on his performance this season, it would be a stretch to see him as anything more than a good defensive addition and boost to the Blazers’ wing depth. Even then, losing Cunningham, Przybilla, and Marks obliterates Portland’s rotation of bigs, and puts Camby and Aldridge on an island.
There’s no reason for Portland not to make this trade, but for the moment it relies on the Blazers playing a lot of small-ball and Wallace reversing course mid-season. It’s palatable as an idea, but could be very different when we see the product on the court.
Charlotte received two “future” first round picks as the meat of their return, with Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, and Sean Marks included as trimmings. Przybilla embodies the savings ($21 million over the next two seasons, compared to the Bobcats’ total had they retained Wallace) the Bobcats always crave, and cutting that kind of salary (combined with possibly moving another player or two in the off-season) puts Charlotte in a more flexible position moving forward. That said, a true rebuild doesn’t begin for the Bobcats until Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson are off the roster.
The timing (and possible protectino) of the two first round picks acquired also greatly affects the outcome of this deal for the Bobcats. Michael Jordan’s club is in need of serious prospects; Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Henderson are decent pieces, but purely complementary ones. There is no Bobcats core, and teams in such a position should be in constant pursuit of finding even a single piece to begin building around. If it seems like the Bobcats are rudderless, it’s because they are.
The fact that the picks acquired are described as “future” first rounders is slightly troubling, if only because Charlotte could sure use some help this summer. Whether picks or prospects, the Bobcats need some kind of infusion of talent, and this deal may not even begin to pay off for Charlotte (in terms of actual players) for a few seasons. Savings and cap clearing are great, but the end goal is always to make the team better. The Bobcats set themselves up to maybe start improving down the road, but the actual rebuilding process won’t begin immediately.