ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported Saturday night that the Portland Trail Blazers had agreed to send backup guard Jerryd Bayless to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for a conditional 2011 first-round pick.
For the Blazers, the deal clears up their final roster. Already, Stein had reported that Portland will sign veteran center Fabricio Oberto to a one-year contract to offer some depth in the middle until Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla return to the court. To make room for Oberto, Portland is expected to waive injured center Jeff Pendergraph (sidelined for the year by a torn ACL), so dumping Bayless would get the roster down to 15 players–a final group that includes second-year guard Patty Mills, who was previously headed to the waiver wire.
The interesting question about this move from the Blazers’ perspective is whether it was motivated more by Wesley Matthews or Armon Johnson. As we wrote about last week, Matthews has played well as the lead ballhandler in a second-team lineup that lacks a true point guard. Most likely, Matthews will be Portland’s backup point guard to start the season. However, he might ultimately be pushed by Johnson, a second-round pick who has impressed during the preseason. Johnson is a true point guard who fits the Blazers’ needs better than Bayless.
How much value Portland GM Rich Cho really got for Bayless–who has two years remaining on his rookie contract–depends in part on the protection on the first-round pick, which is not yet known. SCHOENE sees the Hornets as a playoff team in the Western Conference, possibly as high as a middle seed, in which case the pick may not be very good. However, if the protection is merely top-5 or top-10 as opposed to ruling out the lottery altogether, the upside is that the Blazers may end up with a higher pick than they originally used on Bayless. On Twitter, friend of BBP M. Haubs points out another complication: The threat of a lockout could rob next June’s draft of many of the top underclassmen, making mid-round picks less valuable.
(UPDATE: CBSSports.com’s Ben Golliver reports that the pick is top-seven protected this year and top-eight protected for the subsequent three years. I was thinking top-10 protection would be fair, so those terms would seem to slightly favor the Blazers.)
While Bayless did not work out in Portland, it is easier to see him making sense in New Orleans. The Hornets have been searching high and low for a backup to Chris Paul. Rookie GM Dell Demps has dealt for three guards (Willie Green, Curtis Jerrells and now Bayless) and signed Jannero Pargo and Mustafa Shakur, both of whom were subsequently waived. Bayless is the most likely answer for the position. That he lacks the mentality of a point guard is less of an issue in New Orleans, since few minutes are available behind Paul. Like Pargo did three years ago, Bayless might end up seeing much of his playing time as part of a lineup that also includes Paul.
Monty Williams, who worked with Bayless as an assistant with the Blazers before being promoted to head coach by the Hornets, will have no shortage of options at guard. Bayless and Green can play both backcourt positions, while New Orleans also has Marco Belinelli, who has been starting at shooting guard, and Marcus Thornton, who has followed up a promising rookie campaign with a dismal preseason. It might take some time for Williams to find the right rotation in the backcourt, but two or three players figure to step up.