After struggling for much of last season in Sacramento, Trail Blazers big man J.J. Hickson has enjoyed a rejuvenation this year in Portland. However, John Canzano of The Oregonian says that Hickson's strong season coupled with the Blazers' resurgence has put general manager Neil Olshey in a bit of a pickle.
Hickson, who is averaging 12.0 points and 10.9 rebounds this year, signed just a one-year, $4 million deal with Portland this offseason. With the 24-year-old set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, Olshey has to decide whether or not Hickson will be a part of the Blazers' long-term plans, or whether he needs to be moved before the trade deadline.
If Portland's struggles from earlier in the season had continued, the decision would not be as hard. But now with the Blazers at 20-17 and fighting for a playoff spot in the crowded Western Conference, it could be a tough sell to move a player like Hickson, who has been so effective over the course of the year. 2012 first-round draft pick Meyers Leonard is currently in place as the backup center, but he's very raw and needs some time to develop.
Further complicating matters is the fact that there appears to be some debate over just how much Hickson is worth on the trade market. Canzano reports that numerous league executives believe that despite his excellent play this season, Hickson may not be worth much more than a couple of second-round draft picks. Dealing the hard working big man for that kind of return would be sure to upset some fans.
But then again, missing the playoffs may not actually be the worst thing in the world for Portland. If the Blazers fail to make the postseason, they get to keep their 2013 first-round pick, which is currently protected to No. 12 to the Charlotte Bobcats as part of the Gerald Wallace deal. That pick could be a huge help in improving Portland's serious lack of depth on the roster.
The Blazers are also gearing up for a big run in free agency, as they stand to have quite a bit of cap space heading into the summer. Re-signing Hickson would likely take a big chunk out of that space.
Situations like these are always tough for general managers. You hate to trade a guy who is playing well on a team in the playoff chase. However, you also have to look at the big picture, and losing assets for nothing is not something you really want to do. That's the dilemma currently staring Olshey straight in the face.