Portland Trailblazers big man J.J. Hickson picked a terrific time to start playing the best basketball of his NBA career. The Feb. 21 trade deadline is roughly one month away, and NBA general managers are starting to hone in on Hickson as they assess the best trade targets around the league. Due to his interesting contract situation with Portland, GMs are calling Hickson's agent directly, rather than making contact with Blazers GM Neil Olshey, according to Chris Haynes of CSN Northwest.
The whole situation goes back to a pivotal arbitration ruling in July. Hickson was claimed off waivers by Portland and signed to a one-year, $4 million deal back on March 21. Over the summer, arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled that the 24-year-old big man -- along with Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak and Chauncey Billups -- retained his Bird Rights during the waiver process.
As a player with full Bird Rights, Hickson has the power to veto any trade, so GMs are making direct calls to his agent to see if he would be willing to waive his no-trade rights in a potential deal. If the former first-round pick did approve a trade, he would lose his Bird Rights -- which would otherwise allow him to re-sign with the Blazers in a deal that could exceed normal salary-cap limits and span a maximum of five years (rather than four).
Hickson has transformed his game since joining the Trail Blazers. After a terrific stretch of 19 games with the team last year, he's solidified his evolution into a terrific interior player (20 PER), efficient scorer (57.0 percent True Shooting), and a tenacious rebounder (14.9 ORR, 28.7 DRR) this season. After being waived by the Kings back on March 19, he is enjoying his new-found power in the NBA marketplace (via CSN Northwest):
"I'm blessed to be in this the position and to know that I'm kind of a hot commodity right now," Hickson said. "But all I can do is control what I can control on the basketball court and keep getting better."
"If you look at it, I'm on a one-year, $4 million dollar deal. My qualifying offer was for $3.5 million," Hickson said. "If they would have picked up my qualifying offer, I would be making less money. It wasn't a disappointment, it was a wake-up call for me to get better and for me to lock in and focus on being consistent. That's something I took upon myself to do and I think it's the first time throughout my career that I've been consistent."
The Blazers have started the season surprisingly well in the Western Conference but, if Hickson keeps up his current level of play, the calls from rival GMs will only intensify as the trade deadline approaches.