The Portland Trail Blazers are trading swingman Nic Batum to the Charlotte Hornets for forward Noah Vonleh and shooting guard Gerald Henderson. The deal was first reported by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
On the surface, this seems like a fairly benign trade. Batum struggled for much of last season in Portland, but he’s proven capable in the past of being a three-point threat and rangy defender, which Charlotte could use after the failed Lance Stephenson experiment. Vonleh only played in 25 games in his rookie season but is a promising prospect, while Henderson could offer the Blazers something at guard, with Arron Afflalo and Wesley Matthews—recovering from an Achilles tear—becoming free agents.
Dig a little deeper, and it’s hard not to wonder if Portland is bracing for the departure of not only Matthews, but their star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Vonleh and Aldridge play the same position, and after seeming committed to the Blazers early last season, Aldridge has backed off those sentiments and will be a hot target for teams with cap space—namely the Texas trio of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.
Matthews seems more likely to come back, especially with the nature of his injury. Portland’s medical staff will have the best look at his rehab, and Matthews would probably rather hit the open market after he proves his health after one season. But if Aldridge were to leave, it would be a pretty solid death blow to Portland’s title chances, which were always fringe to begin with. Aldridge is the unquestioned best player on the Blazers, even if point guard Damien Lillard gets all the pub.
It would be sad to see a fun team like the Blazers split up if Aldridge were to leave. They went all-in at the trade deadline last year when they dealt for Afflalo, but Matthews’s injury erased any potential Portland had to make a run. There is obviously still time before we can declare Portland to be in a full-on rebuild or anything like that, but Wednesday’s trade certainly raises some questions.
Photo via Associated Press