Last Thursday, the Rose Garden hosted the second round of perhaps the most suspenseful, exhilarating event in sports. But all the real drama happened outside the arena.
Despite the NCAA Tournament coming to town this weekend, the local news revolved around the Trail Blazers’ personnel shakeup.
Nate McMillan was fired, and Kaleb Canales replaced him as the interim head coach. Gerald Wallace was shipped to New Jersey for Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a protected first-round pick. Marcus Camby was dealt to Houston for Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and a second-round pick.
Greg Oden and Chris Johnson, meanwhile, were waived.
All of the incoming players have expiring contracts, and none are expected to be here next year as Portland looks to rebuild.
Canales’ future is uncertain.
But in the meantime, here’s a quick look at some of the new faces around town.
During a press conference Friday at the Rose Garden, Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart was asked tongue-in-cheek about taking over as the Blazers new coach.
He said that, at the age of 34, that did not even seem real to him.
Well, at the age of 34, it has become an absolute reality to Canales.
An unpaid intern just seven years ago, Canales worked as a video coordinator with the Blazers from 2005-2009 before being promoted to assistant coach. He was chosen as interim coach over assistants with more experience — most notably the 68-year-old Bernie Bickerstaff, who has been a head coach with three different teams.
Canales has built a reputation as not only one of the hardest workers within the Blazers organization, but one of the most upbeat as well.
He also has developed a close bond with many of the Blazers, including those traded away.
As Camby tweeted last week “Coach Canales is a great coach. I feel he’s going to do a great job with this team.”
At 7-foot-3, Thabeet is currently the tallest player in the NBA. But when it comes to meeting expectations, the 25-year-old has come up way short. Selected second overall in the 2009 draft, the Tanzanian-born center has averaged 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds over his three-year career while twice being sent down to the NBA Development League.
Thabeet is the highest drafted player to ever play in the D-League.
His struggles stand in stark contrast to his dominance at Connecticut, where Thabeet won National Defensive Player of the Year and Big East Co-Player of the year his junior year. In the NBA, however, opponents have not been deterred by his frail frame, and his offensive skill set is far from making him an impact player at the NBA level.
In 2009, Thabeet was drafted second while Flynn was picked sixth.
Three years earlier, the Blazers drafted LaMarcus Aldridge second and Brandon Roy sixth. Safe to say the Thabeet-Flynn duo was slightly less influential on the landscape of the NBA.
Flynn’s athleticism at Syracuse made him a highly-sought after prospect by league scouts, particularly after he won Big East Tournament MVP honors as a sophomore. In fact, the point guard showed potential with Minnesota his rookie year when he averaged 13.5 points 4.4 assists.
However, his production saw a major dropoff his second season in the NBA, in which he posted 5.3 points and 3.4 assists while being taken out of the starting lineup.
Flynn was traded from the Timberwolves to the Rockets on draft day last year, after which his production dipped more severely. In 12 games with Houston this year, the 23-year-old averaged 3.4 points while shooting under 30 percent from the field.
Another first-round pick that hasn’t quite made first-round contributions.
There is talk that Williams’ contract will be bought out, but that has not happened yet, so he is still on the Blazers’ roster.
What has happened over Williams’ five-year career, is an array of subpar-to-mediocre seasons in which the forward has averaged 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds.
After coming out of the University of Memphis in 2006, Williams played with the Pacers, Mavericks, Knicks and Nets. However, he did not play in the NBA during the 2009-2010 season, has never logged more than 65 games, and has appeared in just 25 games this year.
Okur is certainly the most accomplished and probably the most talented of all the Blazers’ new acquisitions. He may also be the most irrelevant as he is not expected to play again this season.
A back injury has prevented the center from stepping on the court since January 25, and he has only played 30 games over the past two seasons.
In his heyday with Utah, Okur had three years in which he averaged at least 17 points, including the 2005-2006 season in which he added 9.1 rebounds per game to boot.
Over his nine-year career, the Turkish-born big man has put up averages of 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was the 37th overall pick of the 2001 draft.