Denver trades Arron Afflalo to Portland for a 2016 First Round Pick

DENVER receives: Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, Will Barton, Portland’s 2016 First Round Pick–lottery protected
PORTLAND receives: Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee

Two teams with very opposite motives usually make for great trade partners. This is a prime example Denver is doing what I thought they should have done last season and blowing it up. The middle-ground is no place to be for an NBA team. There is no point in fighting to be the 11th best team in the west (yes, that’s the “middle ground” in today’s NBA). They gave up a good two-way SG in Afflalo, but got back a first round pick, a couple end-of-bench players, and Robinson, who is an interesting player. I think he was over-drafted coming out of school, but he was still a very productive big at Kansas, and had the misfortune of getting drafted to the Kings. I swear half their roster was power forwards at one point! So when Houston removed him from that logjam, I liked the deal: give up scraps for a player with upside, eight months removed from being a top-5 pick. Then he gets salary-dumped to Portland. Liked it again, especially because the Blazers had zero bench players to speak of. But now that he’s being dealt again, I’m getting a little nervous. Is he still an asset? In Denver’s defense, he is in the last year of his rookie deal ($3.6m), with a team option for next year ($4.6m). Both manageable cap figures and Denver has these next few months to see exactly what he is. While he doesn’t see a whole lot of minutes, he has shown to be a pretty good rebounder (11.7 per 36 minutes for his career). But he doesn’t do a whole lot else (4.8 fouls, 2.8 turnovers, only 2.1 stocks (steals+blocks) career per 36). I am not completely off the T-Rob train, but I have started to pack my bag and gotten ready for the next stop. I hope I don’t have to take it. But if he works out for Denver, it’s icing. The main coup for Denver in this deal is the first round pick. I think it was a good deal for them–assuming Portland makes the playoffs one of the next two seasons (very likely bet), because the pick is lottery-protected in ’16 and ’17 then reverts to two Second Round picks. If the worst case scenario happens, this grade drops at least an entire letter grade: B-

The Blazers are all-in. They may not have the best team, but they have two All-Stars and start five serviceable NBA players. That may sound like trying to see gold where there’s nothing, but it’s actually pretty important. When healthy, all 5 starters can play on both sides of the court (Lillard’s defense is not yet “good,” but it is a stark improvement from last season). Their biggest problem over the last few years has always been bench play. They’ve tried to address it, but it still has holes. Someone able to come in Day One and play defense on the wing, while being able to hit his threes is big. Granted, Afflalo is shooting only 33.7% from three this year, but that number was 42.7% last season on nearly identical attempts, and he is a career 38.4% from behind the arc. Wesley Matthews is 1st in the league in made 3-pointers, and Lillard is 6th. This could mean that there will be better spacing in Portland than there was in Denver, and Afflalo’s percentages could creep back up towards his career averages. (He’s only 29. For a shooting guard, he shouldn’t be dropping off a cliff.) If that’s the case, a very good Western Conference team added a key piece late in the season that could help push them over the top. But did they give up too much? I went into heavy detail on my Robinson thoughts above, so I will spare you that here and talk about the first round pick. Smartly it is lottery-protected. So if the worst happens, and the team goes into a nose dive, they are covered. However, I fully believe Aldridge will resign (they’ll have plenty of cap space after Brandon Roy’s deal gets off the books). And I also think Matthews will stay in Portland for another contract. The other two main cogs (Lillard and Batum) are under contract through next year and will have the luxury of resigning when the NBA’s new TV deal comes through. This team is set with young (or relatively young) talent, so the missing pick will likely not come back to haunt them. I love the trade for Portland. Well done, and good luck, Rip City: A

**All stats/salary/research from Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted**

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