This article is my second installment in my three-part series regarding which routes the Portland Trail Blazers should take this Thursday with regards to reordering their roster.
My first installment covered possible replacements at the starting and/or backup point guard positions.
This installment will cover the Blazers' needs at the small forward position.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a large stock of athletes who can play both the two and the three. Some, like two-time all-star Brandon Roy, can even play the one, two and three.
As of this moment, the Portland Trail Blazers have two true small forwards, rookie Nicolas Batum of France, and six-year "veteran" Travis Outlaw of Mississippi's Starkville High School.
Martell Webster, who has played both the two and the three positions missed all but five minutes this season, suffering from a nagging stress fracture in his left foot's fifth metatarsal.
Here is what we do know. Nicolas Batum, although extremely raw, has tremendous upside. If he were given more minutes in the playoffs, he most likely would have been a Bobby Gross type of player, one that would have been overlooked by the opposition, and would have performed very well.
Batum is the small forward of the future for the Portland Trail Blazers. There is no doubt to this statement. However, as of now, he is not starting material.
Travis Outlaw, the longest tenured Trail Blazer, has shown that he can be a good sixth-man, and a pretty reliable option off the bench.
As most of us have seen however, Outlaw is extremely inconsistent. One game he can take over where Brandon Roy left off, and let him rest. On another occasion, Outlaw can blow a lead, and quick.
This was sadly the case in the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, where on only one occasion did Outlaw positively affect the outcome of a game.
Martell Webster, who is a combo 2/3 player, has shown offensive prowess, but on the defensive side of the ball he is a major liability.
That being said, it comes time to analyze this year's edition of the NBA Draft, the free agency, and the trade market to see how Portland could, and should go about addressing their needs at the small forward position.
In Chad Ford's fifth mock draft on espn.go.com, the first small forward to go is Gonzaga's Austin Daye, at No. 14 to the Phoenix Suns. Other notables in the draft are Louisville's Earl Clark, Pittsburgh's Sam Young, Georgetown's DaJuan Summers, Spain's Omri Casspi, and Sweden's Jonas Jerebko.
Coincidentally, Chad Ford has the Portland Trail Blazers selecting DaJuan Summers with their No. 24 pick.
Adding to the plethora of information that we now know about all these prospects is John Hollinger's draft rater, which predicts each collegiate prospect's PER rating after three seasons.
In terms of small forwards, Austin Daye holds the top spot, fourth overall, among collegians.
Other notables are North Carolina's Danny Green (2nd among small forwards, 8th overall), and Earl Clark (3rd among small forwards, 12th overall).
What is a little perplexing is DaJuan Summers' status on the draft rater. Currently, he is rated 48th overall.
Granted, the draft rater isn't always correct, but more often than not, teams who take heed are usually happy with the results.
North Carolina's Danny Green can be a potential draft day steal. He hasn't made the first round of Chad Ford's mock draft yet, but holds the 8th best projected PER rating. Portland does hold four second round picks, so if he doesn't crack the first round, they could draft him lower so they could fill a different hole in the first round.
With the draft covered, let's move on to the free agency. This year's most notable small forward free agents include Atlanta's Marvin Williams, Houston's Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu, Phoenix's Grant Hill, San Antonio's Ime Udoka, Toronto's Shawn Marion, and Utah's Kyle Korver.
Among these small forwards, the biggest names are Artest, Ariza, Odom, Turkoglu and Marion, all of whom will become unrestricted free agents, meaning that their respective clubs cannot go above the luxury tax threshold in order to re-sign them.
Out of this group, who should the Blazers go after. Immediately, Artest, Ariza and Odom would not be welcome sights in the Blazers locker room. Artest has badmouth the Blazers on more than one occasion, and Blazers players and fans alike still have the shocking images of Ariza throwing Rudy Fernandez to the floor during a game in Portland.
This leaves Portland with two options: Shawn Marion, and Hedo Turkoglu. One thing is for sure, both players will command large salaries, which Portland would be able to match, due to the combination of Raef LaFrentz's expiring contract, and the fact that Blazers owner Paul Allen will dig into his own pockets if need be.
Marion is a monster on defense. He was one big reason, along with Amar'e Stoudemire, why even in Mike D'Antoni's system, the Suns were able to play such good defense.
The thing that concerns me about Marion is his attitude. Apparently he can be a bad influence in the locker room, which is something the Blazers do not want. Kevin Pritchard has worked his butt off to clean up the Blazers' image to ruin it with one move.
No, the most likely addition to the Blazers via free agency would be Hedo Turkoglu. Although he is asking for $10 million, that's a price Pritchard and Allen would be willing to pay for his services.
He's another phenomenal outside shooter that would help spread out the defense, and make room in the post for LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. He also is capable of playing the four, and driving to the hoop, making the defenses collapse, opening up the outside shooters.
The last time the Blazers had an opportunity to sign a big-name free agent was in 2007, when current Orlando Magic combo forward Rashard Lewis was a free agent, the Blazers could not afford to sign him.
Now the Blazers do have money to work with, and if Kevin Pritchard wants Turkoglu in a Blazers uniform next season, I hardly doubt he wouldn't find a way to make it happen.
Moving on to the trade market, there are a couple names we saw in trade rumors this season.
Some of these can be ruled out immediately unless sign-and-trade deals were made with players such as Channing Frye who's contract expires this off-season.
But others, such as the rumored deal where Portland would send Sergio Rodriguez, Martell Webster, and Travis Outlaw to the Pistons for Tayshaun Prince and their No. 15 pick.
Guess who Chad Ford has Detroit picking? Earl Clark.
If this trade were to go through it would work for both sides pretty well. First off it would give Detroit a package of young talent, which they will need since they will be going into a rebuilding phase.
It would also unplug the clog at the small forward position for Portland. Batum would be able to play behind Prince, coming off the bench, and playing more minutes than he would as a starter.
The deal would also give Portland another young player to build up. That's what successful franchises do. When their teams fare well, they bring in young talent to build up. It's a cyclical process.
So, after analyzing the upcoming draft, free agency, and trade market, there are three ways Portland can address their needs at the small forward position.
1) The Blazers can stand pat in the draft, and use one of their second round picks to draft Danny Green from UNC, using their first round pick to fill a need at another position.
2) The Blazers could sign SF Hedo Turkoglu in the free agency.
3) The Blazers could trade for Tayshaun Prince and their No. 13 pick and draft Earl Clark from Louisville.
Whatever way the Blazers choose to address their needs at the small forward position, I am 100% confident that Kevin Pritchard will make the correct choice. He hasn't failed the Blazer thus far, and I don't see it happening anytime soon.
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