TUALATIN, Ore. — The 2012-2013 Portland Trail Blazers season has read like an unabridged and meticulous script. The lead author — first-year general manager Neil Olshey — has consistently preached how the organization needs to maintain its core players, maximize the youthful pieces of the roster and protect its flexibility moving forward. These words have remained the same since the season began in October.
However on Thursday morning, just 30 minutes before the NBA trade deadline capped a slow day of player movement, the Blazers flipped the script. But not by much.
Portland acquired guard Eric Maynor from the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for the draft rights of international player Georgios Printezis. The Blazers made the deal by using the same $2.4 million trade exception that they received last July in the swap of Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas for Jared Jeffries.
With the trade, the Blazers needed to waive veteran backup guard Ronnie Price to make room on the roster. By doing so, Portland takes its first steps in improving a low-performing bench, which was once believed it could be built from within.
“This was the best deal we could construct,” Olshey said on Thursday afternoon. “Eric fits into our culture. He’s a great guy in the locker room and he’s a really good guy on the floor. He upgrades our talent base in terms of the point guard and backcourt positions.”
Back in November, Olshey addressed what would become a season-long narrative, the Blazer bench and its startlingly low offensive production. The reserves — mostly a cast of young first-round draft picks like Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and the injured Elliot Williams, who has not played this season — needed a chance to blossom, Olshey argued. And the Blazers needed to see what the unproven players could do.
“It’s something we’re hoping to address internally,” Olshey said in November about developing bench players. “ But if not, it is something we’ll try to address at the trade deadline going forward.”
Months later, the team now 25-29 and the bench still ranked last in the league in scoring (16.7 points per game), consider the internal issue addressed: the Blazers needed to search elsewhere to find more back up.
“It could help us,” rookie point guard Damian Lillard said. “Some new guys coming in, might bring something different off the bench for us. Anytime there’s change, I think it can go either way. But for us, I think the only way we can go is up right now.”
Maynor, 25, should join the team for Saturday’s practice and will immediately becomes Lillard’s primary understudy.
Maynor was arguably the best player in Virginia Commonwealth Univ. history before entering the 2009 NBA draft. Utah selected him with the 20th pick and Maynor briefly played on the same Jazz team as Price and current Blazer, Wesley Matthews.
However, after a trade to Oklahoma City, Maynor finished his rookie season as All-Star Russell Westbrook’s backup. Maynor thrived as a reliable bench player, completing his first two seasons in the league in the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“At one point, he was probably considered the premiere back-up point guard in the NBA,” Olshey said. “He had a little bit of a setback with the injury but he plays the kind of style we like to play.”
Maynor makes $2.3 million and comes with a qualifying offer of $3.35 million if the Blazers wish to re-sign him in the offseason. However, the Blazers must evaluate Maynor before making the investment on a player who last January suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right leg.
This season, Maynor has found limited minutes as the third Thunder point guard, playing in only 37 games while averaging 2.8 points, and 2.0 assists in 10 minutes. However, neither the injury nor Maynor’s limited role concerns Olshey.
“If it was, we wouldn’t have done the deal,” he said. “I know you all have knees on the brain in here but at the end of the day, he had an injury, he rehabbed the injury, he’s back on the court.”
The player Maynor replaces on the roster, Price, has also endured a debilitating injury. Price, 29, has averaged 2.7 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in a little more than 13 minutes a game but since the preseason has struggled with a right ankle sprain.
Price did not play in his final game as a Blazer and sat out the following day’s practice. Although Price did practice on Thursday, teammates already knew that he would no longer be a Blazer.
“It’s tough, man, it’s my first season in the NBA,” Lillard said. “These are the only guys I know. This is the only team that I know. When it’s a change, it kind of hurts, especially with it being Ronnie because that was probably my best friend on the team.”
While Price must pack his bags, center J.J. Hickson survived a run through the trade-deadline rumor mill and remains a Blazer. According to a report from the Detroit News, the Blazers offered Hickson for center/forward Jason Maxiell but the deal died because the Pistons would not relinquish a first-round draft pick as well. Olshey would not comment on trade speculation. He only stuck to the script.
“We entered this season,” Olshey said, “looking to build a model of sustainability and I think we stayed true to that model while still adding an asset without giving away any of our future cap flexibility. So I think we had a pretty successful trade deadline.”