With the 2011 offseason officially underway, the biggest question for the Portland Trail Blazers is who will be the team's point guard once 35-year-old veteran Andre Miller relinquishes the position.
In his two seasons with Portland, Miller has given the team everything they could have asked for: excellent facilitating and playmaking, solid perimeter defense and even scoring when necessary. However, Miller cannot play forever, and this is a young Blazers team brimming with potential that may be just a youthful point guard away from title contention.
While there aren't any marquee point guards available this summer, there are certainly options for Portland to solve their dilemma at the one.
If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment with another possible player and/or your feedback on the article.
6'0" guard J.J. Barea was instrumental in bringing the Dallas Mavericks their first title in franchise history. His ability to beat his defender off the dribble and seemingly get to the rim at will was tremendous for a Dallas team often reliant on outside shooting.
Barea's contract expires this summer, and while there's a strong chance he'll stay with the Mavs, he could also bolt to secure a starting role elsewhere.
Offensively, Barea can step out and hit the three as well as penetrate and get in paint. He would be able to space the floor more effectively than Miller does currently.
He's also made great strides with his passing, running the team for stretches while Jason Kidd was on the bench.
He wouldn't necessarily be an expensive pick-up and could benefit from Andre Miller's guidance in making the transition from rotation player to starting guard. It would make sense to have him come off the bench for a season and learn the ropes before grabbing the reigns once Miller's contract is up.
His size is a legitimate issue though, as Barea is scrappy. Covering the larger guards for the majority of a game could be a real challenge.
Concerns have also been raised as to whether he'll ever be a starter-caliber point guard as opposed to just a spark off the bench. However, Barea was inserted quite effectively into the Mavs' starting backcourt and really found his rhythm then. Granted, it was in a two point guard line up, but Barea still made plays and hustled out on the floor.
Though he might not become the team's franchise point guard, bringing in Barea on a modest contract may be a smart move.
To the surprise of many basketball fans, speculation has picked up that Milwaukee could look to trade franchise point guard Brandon Jennings this offseason. If that's the case, the Blazers may consider the 21-year-old, who is only playing his second year in the league.
Jennings is a very gifted scorer and isn't afraid of the moment, and the Blazers could use a bona fide closer given the uncertainty in Brandon Roy's future. Jennings is one of the league's most athletic guards and still has a ton of potential to become an elite point guard.
Though Jennings' shot selection has been questionable, this may have arisen because he has had to carry an incredibly stagnant Bucks' offense on his shoulders. With players like Aldridge and Matthews on his team, Jennings could worry more about playmaking than constantly scoring.
Trading for Jennings would definitely fix the youth problem, and if he's a success, he could be the team's point guard for the next ten years.
At least for me, it really depends on what the Bucks would ask for in a trade. Giving up Batum would be reasonable, but losing a ton of talent in exchange for Jennings is definitely risky.
If the Blazers can acquire Jennings and keep Miller to mentor him for a season, that might do wonders for his basketball IQ and on-the-court leadership, which could use some improvement.
Rumors have been swirling that the Blazers are looking to move up in the draft in order to take UConn's Kemba Walker, possibly in a deal with the Sacramento Kings.
Walker would certainly inject the Blazer's point guard situation with youth and speed, something Portland sorely needs. He was one of college basketball's most versatile scorers last season and has shown that he isn't afraid of the moment, carrying his Huskies all the way to the 2011 NCAA championship.
His outside shot is decent, but Walker really excels at getting into the paint and using his incredible speed to get out on the break and score.
He is still only 21 years of age and has plenty of room to grow as a player in every aspect. Though his defense was spotty at times during the season, being on a defensive-minded team like Portland would be huge, as Walker has the potential to become a solid defender.
However, there are still a lot of questions to be answered about Kemba. He's not a particularly efficient scorer and could have difficulty moving to the professional level where the ball isn't always in his hands. He also is far more of a scoring point guard than a pass-first one, and it is unknown how well he'll be able to run an offense at the NBA level.
Moving up would mean giving up a young talent like Batum or Matthews for a potential star in Walker, but if he fizzles the Blazers will be in a bad situation. Personally, I think that banking on Kemba to be the team's main point guard option is a little too risky, but the organization may well decide to pull the trigger and roll the dice with Walker.
Devin Harris was acquired by the Jazz in the trade for Deron Williams and seemed like he could be the Jazz's starting point guard, at least for the next few years. However, the lottery balls had other plans and the Jazz ended up with the third overall pick, courtesy of New Jersey.
Now, Utah seems poised to take Kentucky's Brandon Knight, which could put Harris on the trading block as early as this offseason. If that's the case, the Trail Blazers could do a lot worse than an eight-year veteran and former All-Star like Harris.
Harris is one of the league's quickest point guards, which would be a real asset to this Portland team that are quite capable of playing at a fast pace. Harris is excellent at penetrating and collapsing opposing defenses and could easily use this skill to kick the ball to open shooters like Matthews, Roy or Batum.
Though he's only 28 years old, the Blazers would benefit from another established player like Harris in the locker room and on the floor.
There are still some significant areas of concern with Harris. For example, despite his quickness, Harris rarely utilizes his speed on defense and has trouble staying with his man consistently. He's also not a particularly physical player, which would have to change on a gritty, Nate McMillan-led Portland team.
That being said, he's an improvement over Miller as far as floor spacing goes and is still one of the best in the league at making plays in transition, which would be tremendous for Portland.
There are better replacements for Miller than Harris, but I would hardly be upset to see Devo in Rip City.
After five solid seasons on the Bobcats, Raymond Felton came into his own in a major way as a New York Knick before he was traded to the Nuggets in the blockbuster deal for Carmelo Anthony. Though his numbers regressed since he was coming off the bench, the line he put up as a starter in New York was stellar: 17.1 points, 9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals over 38 minutes per game.
Despite his talents, the Nuggets will likely look to trade Felton and his $7.6 million contract in order to make Ty Lawson their point guard of the future.
The Blazers could possibly negotiate a deal centered around Andre Miller, who could be attractive to the Nuggets as a mentor for Lawson in a sixth man type role. After the 'Melo trade, George Karl frequently used a two point guard line backcourt of Felton and Lawson that was quite effective.
In this trade, Portland would receive a consummate starting point guard who can pass, shoot and run an offense as well as anyone. While Felton isn't the league's most explosive point guard, he uses his quickness and craftiness to get to his spots on the floor.
Felton is a solid range shooter and stretches the floor far better than Miller. Felton's three-point prowess would allow for more open lanes for players like Matthews, Wallace and Aldridge to slash and get to the rim.
A young, talented point guard like Felton would allow the incredibly athletic Blazers to get out in the open court and score some easy transition hoops.
While Felton may never be a star player, he would be an excellent addition to the Blazers as they look to leap from playoff team to title contender.
Was it ever going to be anybody else?
Chris Paul's presence on the Blazers would immediately catapult them into the upper echelon of the Western Conference with one of the league's strongest starting units. Paul is easily the league's best pure point guard and would be an asset to any team lucky enough to land him, and particularly to the Blazers.
Much like Andre Miller, Chris Paul is an incredibly crafty and intelligent player who excels at running his team's offense. Both players are able to read opposing defenses brilliantly and seem to always make the right play. However, Paul is better than Miller at executing in the halfcourt, which is key for a Blazers team that ran into trouble in the post-season with long scoring droughts.
CP3's offensive versatility would force opposing defenses to pay constant attention to him at all times, and would additionally open up the floor for the rest of the Blazers. A Paul-Aldridge pick-and-roll would be one of the most difficult to defend in the entire league, given that both players can step out and hit jump shots or take the ball to the hoop with authority.
In transition, Chris Paul is unstoppable, with the ability to take the ball to the hole or make the right pass to a teammate for a finish. As I've stated many times in this article, the Blazers are one of the NBA's most athletic teams and need to get out in the open court as much as possible.
Though a starting backcourt of Paul and Wes Matthews would be slightly undersized, both are hard-nosed, aggressive defenders who can cover larger guards.
Acquiring CP3 would definitely be costly; the Blazers would likely have to give up Miller, Marcus Camby and Nicolas Batum together in a trade. Nonetheless, Paul has expressed his desire to come to Portland, and it's rare that a player of his caliber is even available.
If the Hornets shop Paul this summer, expect the Blazers to be one of the first teams to come calling.