Will they live?

Editor’s note: First paragraph written before Camby’s return on Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks, but after the impressive comeback win against the Denver Nuggets.

When I was going to write this post last week it was going to focus on whether or not the Blazers should tamper with the current chemistry that they have built by trading away pivotal players. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby (though he is not playing, his veteran presence in the locker room is invaluable) were the main names thrown out as potential chips to be used to upgrade (or downgrade the team) at the February 24th trade deadline. The main question as going to be: can they live through those two being gone? Could the chemistry live? Would the good vibes, as the Blazers had built a 7-2 record going into the All-Star Weekend and the deadline (now a strong 8-3 after last night’s victory), survive a jostling of significant magnitude? I wrestled with that question for quite awhile, something I know Rich Cho has worked tirelessly to answer this season. Juggling the loss of Greg Oden again, the uncertainty of Brandon Roy’s return, the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge (attributed to Andre Miller’s point guard prowess) and the burgeoning confidence being shown by Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum (intermittently, of course) and then deciding to make a trade? Restless nights were many, and had often I can assume. I know that I for sure would have fell asleep in the training facility office after a long night of throwing proposals at the wall to see which stuck.

Of the rumors that were swirling around the past week, the two that caused the biggest stir among the Blazer faithful were the proposal of trading Andre Miller for Devin Harris and the active shopping of Marcus Camby services to the highest (or best offer) bidder. I understood the reason for both trade proposals, Cho was looking to get younger or acquire assets to make a bigger trade down the road. But does he really want to mess with a team that had finally been playing well? A team that finally was molding an identity as one that will outwork you, lob it up top and drop shots from all over the floor? A Blazers squad that was playing rather dominant home games even though it was without its starting center and injury embattled franchise star? The prevailing thought was, at least from those that were against dealing these veterans, it is better to stick with the horses that got you this far in the race. Reloading this deep into the season and continue to be competitive in the Western Conference was cause for major pause in the Blazer community.

The proposal of the Andre for Devin was of interesting prospects. Devin Harris could have been an instant replacement for Andre: producing well as a speed guard to the basket, defending opposing points with better alacrity and having a more reliable jumpshot. Yet, the questions that doubters raised were whether or not his production this season were due to him trending downward in his career (he is 29 and in his 7th year, still should be in his prime) or the fact he couldn’t bring himself to play hard 100% of the time for the abysmal Nets. Another point of contention was whether or not he could quickly blend with the current palette of players… would it ruin the equilibrium reached? It was an intriguing thought, an idea I kicked around and enjoyed prepping myself for because there were not many point guards as good, better or younger than Andre that would be worth dealing him. Those were the three criterions for whether or not trading the man affectionately known as Dre was worth it. The price became too steep, and the competition for Devin could not be matched when Deron Williams was offered.

Secondly, the thought of trading Marcus Camby may have made business sense in trying to get under the cap. However, in basketball sense, especially with a team that desperately needed the services of the lanky Minuteman, it made little actually sense (again, in my opinion). No trade of Marcus could even bring back equal value for what he means to the team and community. Even more telling was how emphatic Marcus was, having no leverage whatsoever, in saying that he did not want to be dealt and would immediately retire if he was sent away from Portland. Bold words, but his loyalty to team, family and his comfort in Portland spoke louder than anything else. His wish for no trade was granted and he returned Sunday in limited capacity, to a rousing ovation as a building of 22,000+ were glad to see him play center again.

Up to the deadline, the chemistry seemed to be still alive, but what about the long-term prospects of the team’s season? The current construction of the team had first round and out potential. Point blank period. Something had to happen to liven up the team. The team had been in talks for Gerald Wallace again, for what seemed like an annual trial in futility because nothing came to fruition the three years prior. There was something different about these talks though this go-around. These were serious rumblings, solid sources talking about how close the deal was to being completed. Gone were the days of “talks broke down over player X.” Heading into the Laker game, the Blazers were on the cusp of acquiring a player they’ve coveted since 2008-2009: a former All-Star, All-NBA Defense and positional Swiss army knife. Suddenly the season, the fan-base and ultra-conservative and quiet front office was injected with an ample dose of life. The optimism for a stronger and more competitive team (impressive to fathom, no?) was back in full effect around One Center Court and was palatable in the streets of Portland as “Crash” became the buzz name.

Smiling wide, the humble Gerald Wallace is ready to show out for the Blazers

So far since last Wednesday’s Laker game the Blazers have shown that they are still alive and like Jay-Z says, you are to expect valleys and peaks, but they should be on the trend upwards. The trade for Gerald Wallace did the least amount of damage to the chemistry of the team. The intangible goods that come with acquiring Gerald does nothing but make the Blazers a more legitimate and dangerous lower seed threat in a now weaker Western Conference. Can the Blazers live through this daunting month and murderous stretch of games where the strength of schedule is calculated to a 56% winning percentage of opponents left to face? We’ll see, but they are better equipped at this point, hoping that Gerald assimilates quickly. But, after the season these guys have been through, you don’t see the Blazers stressed, riiiiiiiiight?

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