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Blazers Trading Rudy Fernandez: Pros and Cons

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Portland SG Rudy Fernandez has all but made a public demand for a trade this summer after being disappointed with his often limited role on the Trail Blazers. Most news agencies believe a trade is imminent because of Rudy’s displeasure, and the talented 25-year-old has plenty of suitors, with Boston, New York, and Chicago apparently showing the most interest. Rich Cho, Portland’s new GM, is noncommittal on trading Rudy however, saying “we are going to make the best decision for the franchise.”

Rudy came to the NBA two years ago hyped as the best player in the world not in the NBA. He played with DKV Joventut in the Spanish ACB League (same team and league where Ricky Rubio now plays) for seven years, winning nearly every MVP, tournament MVP, and team championship a player could possibly earn. He played on Spain’s Gold Medal-winning club at the FIBA World Championships in 2006. By the time he was drafted in 2008 at 23 years old, Rudy was well known to most players and front office personnel within the NBA.

So he’s been here for two years, doesn’t feel he’s getting played enough or properly, and is asking for a trade. The reason whatever trade happens will be extremely difficult to analyze is that Rudy’s game is difficult to analyze. Consider what we know about him from the past two years:

Positive: Rudy set an NBA record in 2008-09 by hitting 159 three-pointers, the most ever by a rookie. This is especially incredible considering he only started 4 games on a deep, 54-win squad that season.

Negative: Other than those trifectas, nothing really stands out production-wise about his rookie season.

Positive: He’s one of only 13 players ever to hit at least 250 triples over his first two seasons. Rudy has the least amount of games (140), starts (6), and minutes (3434) of everyone with that distinction. He hit more than Ray Allen during his first two seasons (257 to 251) even though Allen started 161 games at that point. Rudy’s 39% 3FG% fits right into the group. 

Negative: His 41% overall FG% is the lowest of the group. In his defense, 63% of all of his shots in two years have come from outside the arc, but that raises the question of what he’s even capable of inside of it. For the record, Rudy is 171-for-389 (44%) from two-point territory in his career.

Positive: He’s explosive enough to have been voted into the 2009 Slam Dunk Contest, plus he nails all kinds of twisty-turny alley-oops in games.

Negative: He’s not exactly athletic enough to blow past his man or to stay in front of quick perimeter players (although his off-the-ball awareness is quite good). In fact, he’s probably one of the slowest guards in the league.

Positive: In the summer of 2008, right after getting drafted but two months before making his NBA debut, Rudy put on quite a display against the USA’s Redeem Team in the Gold Medal game of the Olympics. In only 18 minutes of burn (due to foul trouble), Rudy scored a team-high 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 5-for-9 from deep. He added 2 rebounds, 2 assist, 1 steal, and only 1 turnover while being guarded by renowned defenders such as Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, and Tayshaun Prince.

Negative: With Brandon Roy on the sidelines due to an injured knee, Rudy started Portland’s first three Playoff games against Phoenix this past April. He had a chance to prove he deserved a bigger role, but he hit only 6 of 17 shots (5 of 14 outside, 1 of 3 inside), scored 22 totals points, and never topped 2 assists or 3 rebounds in a game in his three starts. The fans turned on him, and whatever residual reputation he had for performing in the big game from the 2008 Olympics was gone.

Positive: Rudy looks for and can pull off fancy, highlight-worthy passes (watch the pass at the 0:52 mark of this video, which came in the preseason of his rookie season). His 2.0-1.1 A-TO mark is good for a shooting guard.

Negative: He’s only averaged 2.0 assists in 25 minutes per for his career, so he’s not exactly a playmaker.

So we know he can shoot from deep off of kick-outs, but beyond that, who knows. Fans all over the country have seen him drain 3’s and throw down dunks, the two most wow! type of baskets, and are clamoring to get him. Front offices are a little more hesitant because Rudy wants to be more than just a reserve shooter; he wants to start, and he wants to be a major piece of a team’s offense. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll probably head back to the Spanish league, where he’s a huge celebrity, in a few years.

Part of the issue in trading for Rudy is that he doesn’t make much money for an NBA player ($1.25 million this year, $2.2 million team option in 2011-12), so there aren’t many players whose contracts are similar and would be allowable in a trade. It is believed that in addition to whatever “inexpensive” player Rudy is traded for, a first round draft pick is probably also headed Portland’s way. The Bulls are supposedly in the lead for his services and they’ve been trying to dump F James Johnson ($1.7 million), but it’s doubtful the Blazers would want him, and making the trade just for a so-so draft pick would be dumb. Taj Gibson ($1.1 million), another second-year Chicago forward, is more desirable because of his hustle and defense, but Chicago would like to hang onto him.

The only Celtic with a salary similar to Rudy’s is rookie PG Avery Bradley ($1.4 million), but Portland needs another young guard who can’t get enough minutes like a blind man needs a Rubik’s Cube, and they already have Armon Johnson, a more talented (but less athletic) rookie PG, on their roster. The Knicks have a few players in Rudy’s salary range: F Anthony Randolph ($2.0 million), PG Toney Douglas ($1.1 million), and SF Bill Walker ($0.85 million), but New York likes Randolph’s ability to fit Mike D’Antoni’s system, and it’s unclear if a) Portland wants Douglas or Walker, and b) if the Knicks are willing to part with a first round selection that’s certain to be a lottery pick.  

If any of these players and a first round pick are dealt for Rudy over the next week or two, who knows which side made out? Rudy has some talent and value—not as much as many fans think—but he expects to have a large role with a team. This could possibly work out for a squad that is willing to give him more minutes (maybe the Knicks, maybe…?), or it could blow up in their faces if he remains a reserve and his ego reminds him how big of a star he was back in Spain. The first round pick that goes to Portland could be a real crapshoot, so no one will know its worth for a while, especially since their new GM has never made draft selections before. It’s hard to project the role of any of these players on the Blazers.

So there’s the problems in analyzing a probable Rudy Fernandez trade: no one really knows how good he is or could be in another team's system, no one knows what type of pick the Blazers could get (or who it would become), and no one knows if any of the possible players who could switch places with Rudy would contribute anything Portland needs.

When it finally happens, good luck figuring out what the trade means because it probably won't mean very much for a while. If ever.


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