Trade grades: Blazers acquire Arron Afflalo from Nuggets
Portland acquired Afflalo and forward Alonzo Gee from Denver in exchange for a lottery-protected 2016 first-round pick, forwards Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver, and guard Will Barton, according to Yahoo Sports. The first-round pick is likely to convey to Denver next season, but will become a 2017 lottery-protected first-round pick if it fails to do so. If that pick is not conveyed, Denver will receive two future second-round picks.
Afflalo, 29, is averaging 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists this season while shooting 42.8 percent overall and 33.7 percent from deep.
The deal was consummated just hours before the trade deadline.
Let's grade the trade.
Portland Trail Blazers: Grade: B+
Portland did this deal in part because it was facing pressure from all sides. There's the looming free agency of franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge, plus the fact that two other key starters, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez, will be seeking big salary bumps come July. Aldridge has made it clear that he wants to win; he turns 30 this summer and the time is now. There's the stiff competition in the West's second tier, which has seen a number of teams tool up in advance of the postseason. Blazers GM Neil Olshey surely felt like he needed to keep up with the Joneses given the pre-deadline moves made by the Grizzlies (Jeff Green), Mavericks (Rajon Rondo), Rockets (Josh Smith) and others. There's also the fact that coach Terry Stotts finds himself, for the third straight year, with limited firepower off of his bench, as a number of younger players that Portland hoped would take a meaningful step forward this season just haven't proven up to the task. Finally, there's the pressure of expectations: Portland won a playoff series last year and the franchise certainly wants to do what it can, within reason, to build on that positive momentum rather than take a step back.
The Afflalo deal is a sensible play given all of that context. The trade essentially gives Stotts another Matthews, a well-built two guard who doesn't need the ball to be helpful on offense, who can put up good shooting numbers in the right system, and who developed a reputation as a plus-defender during his first stint in Denver. Afflalo is overqualified to be a back-up -- remember, he was a 2014 All-Star candidate in Orlando -- but he should expect plenty of minutes in Portland because he can swing up to play the three behind Nicolas Batum as well. Acquiring Afflalo should relieve some of the expectations on second-year guard CJ McCollum and it gives Portland its best backcourt reserve scoring threat in years. He counts as an immediate and significant upgrade. Gee, whose $1 million contract ends this summer, is a well-traveled swingman who gives Stotts another experienced body and injury protection.
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Rip City will be sad to see Robinson and Barton -- two fan favorites -- depart. With both prospects, the excitement factor far outweighed their meaningful, consistent contributions. Robinson, who was hyped by Olshey as one of the best young power forwards when he was acquired, never got to the point where his energy and rebounding outweighed his middling defense and lack of perimeter shooting. In a league increasingly enamored with stretch forwards, Robinson often looked like a fish out of water. Barton had some moments during the 2014 playoffs, but his own issues defending on a consistent basis and knocking down open shots overshadowed his occasional brilliance and exuberant personality. As for Claver, the Spanish forward has been buried on the bench since being signed in 2012. A heady, complementary player, Claver has repeatedly requested a trade over the years because he was so far down the depth chart that he was often inactive. He finally gets his wish; the real question now is whether this season will mark the end of his NBA foray.
This trade welcomes an interesting summer for Blazers management. Afflalo can opt out of a contract that would pay him $7.5 million next year, and he will surely be eyeing a starting job somewhere. Meanwhile, Matthews will be looking to cash in on what will certainly be the largest contract of his career. Portland will find itself hard-pressed to keep both, given the other work that it needs to do, but it's possible that the simultaneous negotiations with two similar candidates will help create some leverage for Olshey.
Looking at the surface details -- three players and one pick for what could be a three-month rental -- the price does appear a bit high at first blush. Timing-wise, it's a worthwhile play. The trade signals to Aldridge that Portland is serious about making the most of his prime, it fortifies Portland's bench for the playoffs, it gives the franchise a better shot at advancing deep in the postseason for the first time in more than a decade and it didn't cost any indispensable rotation players. Olshey made the right decision shelling out a little more for Afflalo's good fit rather than skimping by on a lesser talent (say, Boston's Marcus Thornton), especially when billionaire owner Paul Allen can swallow the extra incoming salary.
The Blazers aren't going "all in" here, but they are throwing a nice stack of chips into the West's big pot. They are doing it in a calculated, not reckless, fashion. This was a trade worth trying.
Denver Nuggets: Grade: A
Nuggets GM Tim Connelly drove a hard bargain here, especially considering Afflalo's opt-out clause. Securing a first-round pick and shedding $2.5 million for a B-list rental qualifies as a win, even if so many other things are going wrong in Denver. Conceptually, this was exactly the type of trade the Nuggets knew they needed to make: stuck in the middle, Denver had to shed salary, add draft assets and play for the future. To underscore just how badly this season has gone for Denver, remember that Connelly acquired Afflalo just last summer, with the hope that the move might help push the Nuggets into the playoff conversation. Instead, the trade's impact barely registered. Connelly did well to acknowledge the reality, rather than run from the facts, and get what he could while the getting was good.
Robinson, Barton and Claver should get a chance down the stretch for coach Brian Shaw, who has struggled to create an identity for his team since being hired in 2013. If Robinson and Barton struggled to stick in Portland's structured environment, one wonders whether Denver's chaos is really the right atmosphere for them to shine. The Nuggets' main motivation in landing these three players was their expiring contracts, as that made for a clean salary dump. Robinson, in particular, will have his hands full getting minutes in a frontcourt full of similar players (Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur).
Simply put, most of the nice things everyone said about Denver's return value from Cleveland for Timofey Mozgov can be said about this move too. If nothing else, Connelly is proving he can throw a pretty good garage sale.