Oh, baby: Blazers get younger, and get set to build around a 'pretty good core'
- Kerry Eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
Laney Buchanan, brought into the world Monday at eight pounds, eight ounces, was finally going to get a visit from her father at their home late Thursday night.
'Haven't seen my baby for a while,' said Chad Buchanan with a smile.
Buchanan's other baby - the NBA draft - has taken up most of his attention this week.
The Trail Blazers' acting general manager got something done, too, addressing the team's point guard needs with the acquisition of Raymond Felton and Nolan Smith.
'I feel good about the moves we made today,' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'We addressed a need for not only now but the future.'
The jury is out whether Portland got better for next season through the three-team trade that sent Andre Miller to Denver - and throw-in Rudy Fernandez to Dallas - to get Felton.
There's no question, though, that the Blazers got younger at the point.
Miller is 35. Felton turns 27 on Sunday.
'Andre wasn't the long-term answer for us at point guard,' Buchanan said. 'We were looking at that position pretty hard. That was a priority. And getting a guy entering the prime of his career was attractive to us. He'll be a fabulous addition.'
The Blazers also added depth at the position by taking Smith with the 21st pick in the NBA draft. Smith, who turns 23 on July 25, was named national player of the year by several services for his senior season at Duke.
Felton should be happier in Portland, where he'll be the starter. In Denver, he was the backup to Ty Lawson. Now Miller will be battling the fleet Lawson, 23, for playing time with the Nuggets.
'It's a great situation for Raymond,' Buchanan said. 'He wants to be a starting point guard on a winning team. He's very excited to come here.'
Smith, meanwhile, will battle second-year pro Armon Johnson and perhaps Patty Mills for the backup job at the point.
Felton brings some of the same characterics to the court as Miller, a veritable iron man whose string of 611 consecutive games played was broken by a suspension last season.
'They're both durable, tough, going to be there every night,' Buchanan said.
Felton shoots much better from long distance than Miller - .353 from 3-point range last season to Miller's .108. And Felton is much quicker and athletic. He thrived in Mike D'Antoni's free-wheeling attack in New York before the Knicks gave him up in the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to the Big Apple.
'He is going to give us a different option than Andre,' McMillan said. 'Andre was a guy we could take advantage of posting up smaller guards. Raymond will be involved in pick-and-rolls and in spreading the floor with his ability to shoot and attack.'
Through his six years as Portland's coach, McMillan has employed a halfcourt offense that has made scoring a challenge. The Blazers were last in the NBA with 89 possessions per game and next-to-last in fastbreak points last season.
But McMillan wouldn't commit to changing the Blazers' style despite the acquisition of Felton.
'He can play up-tempo or in a halfcourt,' the Blazer coach said. 'Nolan can do the same thing. Both of these guys have the ability to score as well as create opportunities for the team.'
Buchanan said he had talks with reps of many teams about other veteran point guards, including to San Antonio brass about Tony Parker.
'But there was never anything serious with Tony,' he said.
Felton has one year left on his contract at $7.5 million. At first glance, that's a risk, because he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.
But really, it's a good thing. It gives the Blazers the chance to evaluate Felton's play and see if he is a right fit with his teammates before extending a contract extension offer.
McMillan said before the draft he preferred not to have to develop any more young players. Smith, a four-year starter at Duke, is probably as mature a player as was available at No. 21.
Ironically, another player the Blazers strongly considered - Morehead State power forward Kenneth Faried - went at No. 22 to Denver. When the selection was announced, many in the media expected that the impending trade with the Nuggets included Faried. Not so.
'We were fans of Kenneth, but we felt Nolan was just a notch above him for different reasons,' Buchanan said. 'He is ready to play at the backup 1 and perhaps at the 2 if needed.'
The Blazers were looking to move up in the draft, but couldn't find the right opportunity. When they pinpointed Smith as the player they wanted at No. 21, they tried to move down in the first round, because Smith wasn't expected to be taken until the early second round. That didn't happen, either.
'Nolan was projected to go a little behind us,' Buchanan said, 'but our philosophy was to identify the guy we want and go get him.'
Smith - who helped lead Duke to the national championship as a junior - had played on a squad of college players that scrimmaged the U.S. national team last summer. McMillan was an assistant coach on Mike Krzyzewski's staff.
'Nolan went against guys like (Russell) Westbrook and (Derrick) Rose,' McMillan said. 'He's a combo guard, but he made as smooth a transition (to the point) as anyone I've seen.'
Buchanan and McMillan were among a group of Blazer reps who took Smith to dinner during the Chicago pre-draft camp a few weeks ago.
'He's a class act,' McMillan said. 'He can make our rotation now, and he will be a player who can start in the future.'
Buchanan said Smith was listed on Portland's draft board 'at about the spot we got him at.'
'Our first 17 players were the first 17 players picked, though not in the exact order,' Buchanan said. 'There were a couple of guys right there with Nolan that, for various reasons, we passed on.
'We wanted to get the guy we were comfortable with. We weren't hitting a home run necessarily, but we like who we got.'
The Blazers believe they can build for the future around Felton, LaMarcus Aldridge (turns 26 on July 19) Gerald Wallace (turns 29 on July 23), Wesley Matthews (24) and Nicolas Batum (22). Felton and Wallace, incidentally, played together for five seasons in Charlotte.
'That's a pretty good core for the future,' McMillan said. 'They're around the same age, pretty much in their prime. That's a good group to go with for the next few years.'
Sending Fernandez to the NBA champion Mavericks was addition by subtraction.
'We needed to balance the roster and give other guys some opportunities (for more minutes),' Buchanan said.
That includes giving the 6-8 Batum the chance to get some time at shooting guard.
'I thought about that (kind of) lineup during the playoffs - a combination that included Gerald, Nicolas and LaMarcus,' McMillan said. 'That's a lot of length.'
The X factor, of course, is Greg Oden, who is still rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery and probably won't be ready for duty until November.
The Blazers have until next Thursday to tender Oden an $8.8 million qualifying offer to become a restricted free agent. At that point, they'd have the option of offering him a longer contract, or matching an offer from another team. That wouldn't come until after a new collective-bargaining agreement is signed.
If the Blazers don't tender the offer, Oden becomes an unrestricted free agent. I can't believe they would let that happen. Unless he gets an unrealistic long-term offer from another team, I expect him to be a Blazer next season.
Since Rich Cho was fired a month ago, Buchanan has been in audition mode to be his replacement. I can't believe Buchanan has done anything to hurt his chances at being the guy.
Owner Paul Allen is likely to wait until at least September to make a hire. Why pay a GM until the league starts up again?
President Larry Miller said even in the absence of a full-time GM, the draft process 'worked the way it's always worked' for the Blazers.
'Paul was a part of it,' Miller said. 'He asked questions, he pushed, but at the end he allowed Chad and the rest of the (executive) team to make decisions. Chad pretty much ran the draft today.'
For a few hours, maybe a day, Buchanan will reacquaint himself with his wife, Melanie, and their newest offspring.
Then it will be back to business with his other baby.