In Trading For Bazemore, Blazers Acquire Athleticism And Options

by Casey Holdahl
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The Portland Trail Blazers recently had success acquiring a player years after they had previously expressed interested, signing center Enes Kanter, who they tendered a restricted free agent offer sheet to in 2015, after he was bought out by the Knicks second half of the 2018-19 season.

With as well as that partnership worked out -- Kanter was integral in Portland advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 19 seasons -- there's no reason not to try a similar approach again, albeit with a different player.

After being interested in signing Kent Bazemore back in 2016, only to have him re-sign for four years with the Atlanta Hawks, the Blazers finally got their man, trading Evan Turner for the 6-5 guard/forward entering his ninth season out of Old Dominion.

"We've always liked Kent, he's a great fit positionally for us, style of play," said Neil Olshey, Trail Blazers president of basketball operations. "He was a free agent we were looking at in 2016, at the time he did exactly what guys are supposed to do, which is he re-signed with the franchise that gave him a great opportunity to showcase his abilities. They got him off the market, really, before the market opened. But here we are three years later, we continued to track his progress. As our team got better an better, having a player that plays his style of basketball can contribute at an even higher level."

For Bazemore, the trade gives the 29 year-old wing a chance to join a team coming off a deep postseason run rather than returning to one in the middle of a rebuild.

"It's a breath of fresh air," said Bazemore of the trade. "The past two years have been tough. I'm guy who loves to compete every night -- obviously I want to thank the Atlanta Hawks for extending my career, putting me in a position to thrive and put me in a position to be sought-after with a franchise like the Portland Trail Blazers... It feels good. I know these guys want to win every night and it's something that understood, these guys don't have to talk about it."

The move also gets Bazemore back to the Western Conference, where he spent the first three years of his career before signing in the East with the Hawks. 

"That's another thing about playing in the West: there's really no night's off," said Bazemore. Getting back to that brand of basketball, playing at a high level every night is what I love."

In adding Bazemore, the Trail Blazers get a player whose skills likely compliment the roster better than the player he's replacing. A career 35 percent shooter from three, Bazemore made more three-pointers (96) last season than Turner made in his three seasons in Portland (84). Bazemore also gives the Blazers a rangy perimeter defender and a boost of athleticism, two areas in which the Blazers have struggled at times over the last five seasons.

"The athleticism that he brings to the roster is important, the ability to run the floor," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Guys like Kent have a way of impacting the game on their own, whether it's defensively or rebounding or getting out in the lane, a timely three. I think he just fills a lot of those things that we're looking for at the offensive end. Defensively he can guard three positions, he can really be tough at the defensive end and I think his versatility will help us as well."

What's more, with little certainty regarding Portland's ability to bring back a number of free agents from last year's team, Bazemore serves to fill more gaps positionally should players such as Seth Curry, Al-Farouq Aminu and Rodney Hood (specifically) sign on with other teams this offseason.

"We all know we're in a difficult position in terms of our position -- we're over the tax as of today after this acquisition," explained Olshey. "We had a lot of non-bird free agents on our roster that, we only have one tax midlevel (exception).

"So in order to continue to build this roster to compete at the level everybody has become accustomed to, a lot of our transactions are going to be by trade. (Turner) was phenomenal for us, he's great in the locker room, his skill set. But with the distinct possibility we might end up losing Rodney Hood to offers that go beyond what we can compete with based on our tax midlevel, we needed to get a wing that replicated a lot of the things we were successful with doing last season."

And they get that replication with Bazemore. If Portland is able to retain a few of their free agents, Bazemore likely ends up joining a bench unit that was one of the team's strong suits last season. And if not, he almost surely returns to a starting role after coming off the bench in 32 of his 67 appearances last season with the Hawks.

Whatever his role ends up being, Bazemore is just happy to be back on a team jockeying for position in the postseason rather than the lottery.

"The culture here is great. I'm here to just continue moving the franchise in the right direction, that's winning a championship," said Bazemore. "I think it's a solid position for me to come in and just do what I do best. In Atlanta over the past couple years things have kind of... the outlook on the franchise shifted a little bit and I kind of got caught in the middle of that, trying to reinvent myself in the middle of it all. But I'm here and I can do the things that I was put on this earth to do."

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