Who are these guys the Nets would get in a Vince Carter trade and what else might the Trail Blazers have to offer? Here’s a thumbnail assessment of each, including their salaries next season.
Travis Outlaw, 6’9" small forward, 24 years old. The key player the Nets would get back, he would immediately upgrade the Nets’ weakest position, small forward. One of the cornerstones of Portland’s rebuilding, he has operated the last few years as their sixth man. Although a great athlete with great length, Outlaw is primarily a jump shooter rather than a slasher. Last season, he not only focused on his mid-range jump shot…he was obsessed with it. The only players in the NBA to attempt more midrange jumpers than Outlaw were Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, according to John Hollinger’s statistics. On a percentage basis, it wasn’t even close. Outlaw dominated that statistical category. A six year veteran in spite of his youth, Outlaw has improved every year, although he appears have plateaued this season. His scoring and rebounding are slightly down, his shooting overall and three-point shooting slightly up. He has made himself a 40% shooter from deep and is a very good in the clutch. The Blazers like to go to him because with length and high release, his shot is virtually unblockable. His biggest improvement over the years, however, has been his defense. Using his length, Outlaw can be a solid defender. If matched up against a stronger opponent, he can have problems. His contract is more than manageable…$4 million this season, dropping to $3.6 million next IF his team wants him back. The contract carries a June 30 team option. In spite of his name, Outlaw is also a solid citizen, the son of a Mississippi law enforcement officer. Averaging 12.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 1.1 apg—don’t expect a lot of passes from him.
Sergio Rodriguez, a 6'3" point guard, 22 years old. A pure point guard with head-whipping, jaw-dropping passing ability but a player who has in and out (mostly in) Nate McMillan’s doghouse because of his poor defense and often erratic, turnover-heavy play on offense. Drafted a couple of spots after Marcus Williams in the point guard-heavy lower third of the 2006 draft, his strengths and weaknesses have remained the same. And coaching impatience with him is not just an American thing. Spain’s National Team coach passed on "Spanish Chocolate" in putting together last year’s Olympic silver medalists, choosing instead wunderkind Ricky Rubio, who is known for his great defense and steady play. Still, he has enormous potential because of his court vision. His biggest fans think his lack of development has to do with the way he has been used, in "dribs and drabs" as John Hollinger notes. He averaged 8.8 minutes in 72 games, the former figure indicating unhappiness with his play, the latter happiness with his reliability. This year, McMillan gave him a lot of time, then turned to Jerryd Bayless. Still, all his numbers are up this season, almost doubling in fact. That includes minutes and points. His shooting, still under 40% overall, has made an improvement. A good friend of Rudy Fernandez, their alley-oops make highlight reels around the world. Still on his modest rookie contract, a team will have to make a decision on him this October. Makes $1.58 million next season. Averaging 4.8 ppg, 3.7 apg and shooting 38.5% overall and 33.7% from three.
Channing Frye, 6’11" forward, 25 years old. The incredible shrinking man, in spite of his height. Drafted at #8 in the 2005 draft, he was a favorite of Isaiah Thomas who said he did not regret taking him over Andrew Bynum. Everyone else does. Frye looked like a keeper his rookie season, averaging 12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg and shooting 47.7% from the floor, including a respectable 33.3% on a small sample of three’s. But things went south under Larry Brown and after a less impressive sophomore year, when his numbers dropped to 9.5, 5.5, 43.3% and 16.7%, he was dealt to Portland. There, standing in his way was LaMarcus Aldridge. He has a reputation for being soft, among other things. Hollinger calls the oft-used combination of Frye at center and Aldridge at power forward "the softest frontcourt in NBA history." Mainly, his "softness" is the result of a lack of strength and toughness. Content to take jumpers from the top of the key, he can go to the hole, but there that lack of strength becomes a problem and his finishing rate falters. Like Outlaw, he loves the long two. Outlaw, as noted, ranks #1 in the percentage of his shots that are long two point jump shots. Frye is #6. With the return of Greg Oden, there was some hope that he would return to form. However, off-season ankle surgery has hurt him and his numbers have taken another dive. Because of his high draft position, he is making a nice salary, $3.16 million, this season. But his team’s commitment to him can end this June. He will be a restricted free agent. Could he return to his rookie form? Who knows, but he will be taking a pay cut. Averaging career lows across the board, at 3.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 39.0% and 38.9%.
Raef LaFrentz, 6’11" power forward, 32 years old. Out for the season, he has the league’s most alluring expiring contract…and that’s the only number that counts. He is getting $12.72 million, the last year of a long contract given him by Mark Cuban when he was a promising, younger player. Because of his latest knee injury, 80% of LaFrentz’s contract is picked up by Portland’s insurance carrier. So a team picking him up will only have to pay 20% of what is still owed him on Thursday, a pittance for the purposes of matching a big salary. As Hollinger writes, "Oh, you're still here? ..."
Draft Picks: Draft picks could be a big part of any trade with Portland. They hold a veritable bazaar of them. In 2009, they retain their own first round pick plus the second round picks of the Clippers, Knicks and Nuggets as well as their own. In 2010, they have their own first rounder plus the Bulls’ and their own in the second round.
Draft Rights: Here’s where it could get interesting. The Blazers hold the first round rights to two top young European players, Joel Freeland, a 6’11" British power forward, and Petteri Koponen, a 6’5" Finnish point guard, taken at #30 in the 2006 and 2007 drafts, when both were 18. They have since thrived. Freeland is the most polished of the two. He has been called a "David Lee type" of player. Draft Express described him in November this way: "Freeland runs the floor well, is very explosive off his feet, and possesses nice fluidity and agility for a player this size." He’s only averaging 10 ppg a game for Gran Canaria in the Spanish league, but he’s only playing a few minutes. Koponen is still only 20 but has played and done well against both top Europeans and Americans (in the Nike Hoops Summit in 2007). Of his performance that day, Draft Express wrote: "the 6 assists and 1 turnover were the most important numbers for Koponen, but his impact on the court went far beyond the numbers. The young point guard ran the pick and roll like a veteran, making many great reads and showing the awareness to find the open cutter nearly every time." He was up against Derrick Rose. Playing in the Italian League, where he signed a four year deal this summer. Buyout provisions are unavailable. The Blazers also hold second round rights to four other Europeans, but none is likely to play in the NBA.
The biggest argument that could be made for this deal, beyond how it could continue the team’s youth movement, is how much cap space the Nets would save. LaFrentz comes off the books in June. Outlaw has a team option (for a lower salary!), Frye becomes a restricted free agent and Rodriguez can either be offered a contract or play out the last year or his rookie deal as an audition. This deal in fact offers the most potential salary cap relief of any of them.
Would the Blazers give up draft picks or draft rights? If they did, it could be on the level of the Jason Kidd-Devin Harris deal in terms of enhancing the team’s "business plan".