And just like that, the offseason of drama that awaits the Portland Trail Blazers finally began.
Nicolas Batum was traded on Wednesday to the Charlotte Hornets for veteran swingman Gerald Henderson and 19-year old former lottery pick Noah Vonleh.
The trade marks the end of Batum’s seven-year tenure with the Blazers, a tenure where he reached the playoffs in five out of his seven seasons in uniform.
“Nic Batum was a key contributor to all of our recent success,” said Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey. “He will truly be missed as a person and a player. We wish Nic all the best for the future.”
Batum was an integral part of the team’s success the past two seasons but had the worst season of his career last year. He played 71 games and posted career-lows in 3-point percentage and field goal percentage, which could have been even worse were it not for hot shooting after the All-Star break.
Batum also served as a secondary ball-handler for most units, which is something they will lose. While this is just one of many big moments that await the Blazers this offseason, they do have the emerging playmaking of CJ McCollum off the bench.
One executive for another NBA team, who would not speak on the record, said the move appears to be “a rebuilding move,” and a sign they feel Aldridge won’t return.
Other observers around the league see it as a possible move to clear cap space to make a run at Cleveland’s Kevin Love if LaMarcus Aldridge leaves town or perhaps Wesley Matthews, who according to USA Today desires a $15 million salary.
As Love is not Portland’s free-agent, they do not have his bird rights to go over the cap to sign him without penalty.
Henderson is an athletic swingman who has improved his 3-point shooting nearly every year he’s been in the league.
He can also defend wing players but does not have the ability to play power forward.
But league sources and observers agree that the prize in this trade is the 19-year old Vonleh.
Vonleh, the ninth overall pick in 2014, played just 25 games for the Hornets. His season was derailed before it even began due to sports hernia surgery in September.
Vonleh subsequently was unable to crack the Charlotte rotation for a team that barely missed the East playoffs, finishing with 33 wins. He shot 42 percent from the 3-point line in limited time.
At 6-foot-9, he has high upside, but the questions surrounding Vonleh have to do about whether the talents will coalesce into the player many around the league think he can be.
He is an easy player to like, with huge hands, a great body and a soft jumper. He just hasn’t gotten much of a chance to prove it yet.
In return Charlotte gets a wing that they could only dream of in past seasons. Batum struggled last season but the collection of wings in the Eastern Conference-with obvious exceptions like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony- are not quite as good as the West.
With the draft coming Thursday, the Blazers’ first big move of the 2015 offseason seems to have only sparked more questions than it answered.