Rich Cho’s words were succinct in June when he was asked what prompted him to give up two former lottery picks to acquire guard-forward Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers.
"You have to give up something to get something," Cho, the Charlotte Hornets’ general manager, said of sending shooting guard Gerald Henderson and power forward Noah Vonleh to Portland.
So far – and nine games is admittedly a small sample – this deal has worked out well for the Hornets. Though Batum hasn’t always been efficient (he committed seven turnovers in a road loss to the Atlanta Hawks), he has been the versatile scorer-facilitator coach Steve Clifford craved. Clifford runs a lot of offense through Batum because he sees the 6-foot-8 swingman as a strong decision-maker as far as when to pass, shoot or drive.
Batum scored 24 points, playing a key role in a two-point home victory Wednesday over the New York Knicks. He followed that Friday by scoring a season-high 28 points in a 102-97 loss at Chicago.
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Henderson and Vonleh haven’t had so quick an impact, but that’s understandable considering the circumstances. Vonleh, who turned 20 in August, is raw but his length and athleticism still make him intriguing. Henderson missed the first handful of games with his new team with a hip injury.
A look at the effect of the deal on both teams:
The Hornets’ offseason was all about improving offensively. Clifford aspires for Batum to be a point-forward type facilitator-scorer similar to how Hedo Turkoglu played for the Orlando Magic when Clifford was an assistant coach there. Batum has been spectacular his last three games, averaging 23 points and 6.3 rebounds, shooting 57 percent from field and 63 percent from 3-point range.
The Blazers were starting over. LaMarcus Aldridge’s desire to move on (he signed with the San Antonio Spurs) started an exodus for veteran players with Wesley Matthews signing with the Dallas Mavericks and Arron Afflalo signing with the New York Knicks. Dealing Batum completed that process, with the Blazers getting a young big man (Vonleh was chosen ninth overall in 2014) plus a veteran wing player in Henderson, going into the final season on his contract.
What they gave up
Henderson played hard in Charlotte and was a consummate pro. But he never developed the 3-point accuracy to be a strong fit in the 1-in/4-out sets Clifford prefers to run (four players at the 3-point line surrounding a single post player). Giving up Vonleh didn’t seem a huge sacrifice. He wouldn’t have played much this season behind Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller, and the Hornets drafted another power forward, Frank Kaminsky, with the ninth pick in 2015.
The Trail Blazers dealt away Batum, who was going into the final season on his contract and was coming off his weakest NBA season statistically. Retaining Batum would have made more sense had Aldridge stayed; now the Blazers are rebuilding around point guard Damian Lillard.
By the numbers
The three players’ statistics through Wednesday’s games:
Batum: 14.5 ppg., 42% FG, 37% 3-pt., 86% FT, 6.5 rpg., 3.8 apg, 3 tpg.
Henderson (one game): 12 ppg., 60% FG, FT% NA, 3-pt% NA, 2.0 reb., 0 assists.
Vonleh: 2.0 ppg, 28% FG, 67% FT, 0% 3-pt., 2.6 rpg., 0.3 apg.
If Batum has a big season it will be expensive to re-sign him in the summer of 2016, considering the flood of money coming into the NBA via new national television contracts.
The only real risk for the Blazers would be Vonleh not panning out, and that’s not a big deal. He’s playing at a reasonable salary under the rookie pay scale and his size and athleticism would seemingly make him tradeable even if he has limited productivity.
The bottom line
The Hornets needed significant improvement offensively and had limited resources in free-agency. So trading for a player like Batum made sense, particularly since Cho and assistant general manager Chad Buchanan knew him well from their time in Portland’s front office.
The Blazers were starting over, so affording themselves a long look at a young big man like Vonleh was a worthy transaction.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell