The Portland Trail Blazers agreed to deal Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson. The Hornets were able to bolster their perimeter shooting after a poor season from beyond the arc, while the Blazers acquired a young asset in Vonleh, and insurance at power forward should LaMarcus Aldridge leave Portland.
Batum is entering the final year of a 4 year - $46 million deal he signed with the Blazers in 2012. He is due to earn $11.9 million this season. His status as an expiring contract makes this a low risk trade for the Hornets, as they can choose to extend him following the season, or let him walk. Either way, there is very little downside with taking on Batum. As a player, he gives the Hornets much needed competency on the perimeter. Last season's trio of Kemba-Lance–Gerald shot a combined 143-521 from three, for a blistering 27.4% rate. For comparison's sake, the worst 3-point shooter last season was Corey Brewer, going 63-235 (26.8%). No player who shot more than 250 threes was worse than the Hornets' backcourt last season.
By adding Batum, the Hornets are acquiring someone who shot 36.2% from three over the past 4 seasons. They are buying low on a player who is just 26 (!!!!), and hoping that a fresh start can revive his career. Just like the Hornets, Batum's 2015 season was nothing short of disastrous. His averages and percentages plummeted across the board, and he failed to put up double digit points for the first time since his rookie season. There is good reason to bet on a Batum turnaround, however. He was bothered with minor injuries throughout the 2015 season, and if he can remain healthy we could see a return to his 2012-2014 form. When he's healthy, he's a dynamic 3-and-D guy, who can also use his gargantuan 7'2'' wingspan to snag rebounds and close out on shooters. This trade is a no-lose situation for Charlotte: If Batum can bounce back from his 2015 campaign, they've snagged a huge asset for little cost. If he doesn't, they can dump him after the season with no impact on the team. It's another solid move by GM Rich Cho, who continues to rebuild the team.
The Blazers acquire Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson, which is not a bad haul in theory. After all, Batum did have a terrible 2015 season. Henderson can be seen as a store-brand replacement for Wesley Matthews, should they not re-sign him after his achilles injury. Henderson is a mediocre shooting guard, a high-volume 2 point shooter who can't really shoot 3's. In today's NBA, that's just not a sustainable style of play for a shooting guard. But what he lacks in shooting, he makes up for in passing. Actually wait, he doesn't at all, he's averaged just 2.1 assists per game in his career. The more I dig on Henderson, the more I realize how overvalued of an asset he is. He's just not a fair haul for a player with Batum's upside, and Vonleh hardly makes up for Henderson's deficiencies.
Whatever the Blazers say (see above), this deal was all about Aldridge insurance. Rumors continue to abound concerning Aldridge's free agency, and the Blazers wanted to lock down a replacement should the need come up. But Noah Vonleh is no Aldridge. He's not even close. His tenure in Charlotte got off to an uncomfortable start, with Vonleh being shelved for 2 months with a hernia before the season started. Once the season began, he was hardly putting up numbers. He racked up a lot more DNP-CD's than he did points, and he was even sent down to the D-league for a short stretch in December. It seemed that everything he was lauded for at Indiana (rebounds, defense, jump-shooting) was ineffective at the NBA level. In the 25 games that he did play, he put up just 3.3-3.4 on 39% shooting. To shoot 39% from 2 point range as a 6'10'' human being is a very difficult thing to do, unless you're just bad at basketball. And Vonleh certainly was this past season. The Blazers are hoping they can turn him into a viable 4, someone who can bang inside, but step out and shoot the 3. He was an effective shooter in college, shooting 48% from 3. But in the NBA, he was completely gun-shy beyond the arc, taking just 13 all season.
With news breaking today that Aldridge has plans to leave Portland, this deal begins to make a lot more sense. Vonleh is an long-term project, but not a hopeless one. On a rebuilding team, he can slowly work his game, and maybe develop into a solid 4 in this league. Factoring in Aldridge's free agency, the Blazers can't be ripped as hard for this deal. But they still misfired, giving away a solid asset (both as a player and expiring contract) for an overrated backup and a reclamation project at 4. If these are the types of moves the Blazers make, I completely understand why Aldridge is leaving.