The first of what will probably be a handful of rumors tied to prying Jason Kidd out of the Eastern Conference broke Wednesday, roping in Portland in addition to probable trade participants Dallas and New Jersey.
|Portland GM Kevin Pritchard has turned the Trail Blazers into a playoff contender. (Getty Images)|
According to several NBA sources, that deal will never see the light of day. That being said, there is validity to the fact the Trail Blazers are doing some talking, which compromises the bubble of security they've been operating under during this Cinderella season. While it might seem naïve that the third-youngest team in league history would be able to keep all of its parts together for the foreseeable future, the fact is that for reasons related to cap issues and roster space, only the true core is safe.
The Trail Blazers have an embarrassment of riches assembled. It only makes sense that teams would start honing in on pieces they can potentially pry away. Fortunately, the guy pulling the strings has proven he knows what he's doing.
If this season's Executive of the Year race were a golf major, Portland GM Kevin Pritchard would play the Tiger Woods role, sitting comfortably in the clubhouse with the tournament's low score, a likely course record. He transformed a franchise by being proactive and, considering the Blazers will have a couple of pieces ready to come over from Europe next year, it makes sense that they would consider moving a few contracts while they can, especially if they can land a veteran to aid this season's playoff push. Rest assured, though, the bigger picture is most prevalent in Portland's mind.
"It takes players years to figure out how to play this game. We're talking about LaMarcus (Aldridge) falling into this go-to role in the post where this is really his first year," head coach Nate McMillan said. "Zach Randolph had that position last year, but what (Aldridge) has been able to show us is that he's capable of being that power forward alongside Greg Oden in that threesome that we feel we have with Brandon Roy that can possibly help to win a championship one day.
"We're not where we want to be, but the potential that we have is starting to show. The team of the future is starting to show."
Pritchard has to project how players will mesh with the unquestioned nucleus, from the ones currently in place to anyone they discuss bringing in. Making matters more difficult, the primary piece is an injured 7-footer who has done more swimming and lifting than anything basketball-related since being drafted No. 1 this past June.
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"I'm plugging myself in, but you know, next year is going to be totally different," Oden replied when asked if he'd been mentally placing himself in situations while watching his Blazers flourish from his seat on the bench. "We're going to have to start over and we all have to blend and be on the same page together.
"My knee is fine. I've just been working out trying to get it stronger, not trying to do nothing outlandish. It's been exciting to see the guys starting to mature into their own and winning does a lot for that. Hopefully we can make the playoffs and do the things no one expected from us."
No one is rooting harder for Portland to break through than Oden, knowing that the experience that can be gained from a postseason run would be invaluable, even if he is stuck in civilian clothes. At the same time, the strides players like Outlaw, Martell Webster and Sergio Rodriguez have made this season as complementary players have to be taken with a grain of salt. Oden is right. Next year will be totally different. Roles could potentially change and probably will.
Nationally televised games like Wednesday's loss to Cleveland are still viewed as learning experiences, but since the Blazers appear closer than anyone would've imagined, they carry greater weight in the short term. It's as if the stakes have been raised in the evaluation process. Opponents' expectations have already altered matters.
"From here on out every test we face will be tough. The bull's-eye is on us now," Roy told CBS Sports.com last week. "We're just going to keep pushing through one game at a time. That's a cliché, but everywhere we go now, people are like, 'All right, we're watching you guys. We're not gonna let you come in here and sneak us.' We're getting teams' best efforts. It's good because it's all of our second, third years, so getting a chance to face this now is only going to make us better prepared for the future."