Just when we'd suited up in our Martell Webster jersey and jammed on our foam "No. 1" hands for last week's NBA draft, tragedy struck.
Mere hours before the Washington Wizards went on the clock June 24 to draft John Wall with the top pick, news surfaced that Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard was being canned—just as soon as he completed the draft.
For most Blazers fans, this was—as one wweek.com commenter put it on our Pritchard post—a kick in the teeth from owner Paul Allen. "I got rid of my season tickets once, MADE Allen listen to me and he changes his ways," one commented. "Not afraid to do it again."
Still, we had a draft to watch. And while no marquee deals happened, Pritchard, a notorious draft-day wheeler-dealer, still had a few tricks before he left. So how do we rate the Blazers' draft-day decisions? In a word? "Meh." But if we had to actually discuss the Blazers' latest moves, through the tears, we'd rank them like this.
About Time: Dropping Webster
While most fans are probably sad to see Martell Webster leave, we're happy the team is finally deciding to let go of a few favorites. The starting small forward spot—and at least 35 minutes a game—is now there for Nicolas Batum to seize. Even at age 23, Webster was the Blazers' second-most tenured player (only Joel Przybilla now remains from coach Nate McMillan's first year in 2005) and one of their top three-point shooters. Webster never openly complained about his role and turned from a defensive liability coming out of high school to one of the team's better perimeter stoppers. But he also failed to fulfill expectations that come with being the No. 6 pick—his numbers from the last two healthy seasons (Webster missed all but five minutes of the 2008-2009 season with a stress fracture in his left foot) are nearly identical. And he never became the steady spot-up shooter (think Dale Ellis) that many Blazers insiders hoped. Batum has all the essentials to become a star, and now he doesn't have to worry about minutes.
Worth a Shot: Rookie Blood
We're still a little lukewarm on new small forward Luke Babbitt. Let's hope the former Nevada star—who averaged an impressive 21.9 points per game in college—is more Kyle Korver than Luke Jackson. The Blazers acquired the 16th pick in the draft by dealing Webster and taking back the contract of fifth-year combo forward Ryan Gomes. Babbitt may become an excellent three-point shooter, but scouts say he lacks the quickness to get off his own shot. The best part of the deal? The savings the Blazers get on the salary cap, which they could use to land a role-player or backup big man: Babbitt's rookie contract ($2.8 million over the next two years ) is less than the $4.3 million Webster made, and the team waived Gomes on June 29, putting it roughly $1.9 million under the luxury tax.
Meh: Elliot Williams
TV pundits lauded this pick, saying Portland had found great late-first-round value in the 22nd pick. But for Blazers fans tired of watching hybrid attacking guards try meshing into McMillan's super-structured offense, Williams looks like a clone of current backup Jerryd Bayless. In the "reasons to believe" department, however, Williams is known as a defensive stopper—a trait that could give him an edge over Bayless with McMillan. Still, it's hard to imagine McMillan finding minutes for Bayless, Williams and owner Paul Allen favorite Patty Mills. So unless the team commits to Williams, he'll probably be disappointing (and disappointed with his minutes).
Terrible. Just Terrible: Pritchard Fired
The general public has reacted pretty much in unison on this one: with name-calling toward Allen and apocalyptic predictions for the future of the Blazers organization. Some have floated the conspiracy theory that Allen, a Seattle native, wants to create a disconnect between the team and Portland fans in order to move the club to Seattle, a bigger market and closer to home for Allen. While that's not an argument we buy into—huge egos, not shadowy plots, would seem to be the culprit here, and Pritchard has asked Portland fans not to hold the move against Allen—we must agree that firing the man who brought your ball club back from the Jail Blazers-era dead was ballsy in a bad way. ESPN's Jay Bilas said it best on draft night: "I don't know what more they wanted; what else could he do?" Actually, it was Jeff Van Gundy who said it best: "I'm absolutely shocked!" Yeah, so is Portland.