TUALATIN – The Portland Trail Blazers executed a flurry of trades this week that resulted in many players going out, others coming in, and in some cases, those new players going out again.
When the dust settled, guard Josh Hart was left standing as the most important player the team had acquired.
The quest to create cap flexibility and add draft picks for a rebuild resulted in CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and others finding new addresses. The Blazers had identified some impactful trade targets, but potential deals fell through.
So, major roster additions will have to wait until the offseason. But that’s not to say that the Blazers don’t believe that they’ve landed an important addition in Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard who is exactly the type of player coach Chauncey Billups says he covets.
So much so that when the Blazers, in an attempt to trade McCollum to a good situation, began negotiating with the Pelicans, Billups zeroed in on Hart as being someone he hoped to add.
“He’s my type of player from the standpoint of just being able to go and play both sides of the basketball and just be tough,” Billups said. “Not only tough, but skilled.”
Billups and interim general manager Joe Cronin expressed that sentiment to Hart, who in 41 games this season in New Orleans averaged 13.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He shot just 32.3% from beyond the arc, but shot 59.8% on two-point attempts for an overall field goal percentage of 50.5% and an effective field goal percentage of 56%.
Numbers aside, Billups said it’s Hart’s competitiveness that he loves most in a player he described as quiet and humble but as competitive as anyone.
“When he’s out there, he plays with a level of urgency that you love,” Billups said. “I’m looking forward to just coaching him.”
All of that is exactly what Hart wanted to hear when the Blazers acquired him in a seven-player trade with the Pelicans on Tuesday.
Hart is on his third organization and fifth head coach in five seasons. He came into the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. In 2019, the Lakers traded him in a blockbuster deal that included Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball for superstar big man Anthony Davis.
Hart, who has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract, with a player option for the second season, is searching for stability and likes that he fits what Billups wants.
“That definitely gives me comfort, short term and long term,” Hart said. “I guess it reassures me to just keep doing what I’m doing, keep being the player that I’m being. I’ll just continue to get better in certain aspects, but just going out there and playing my game.”
Hart arrived in Portland on Wednesday but did not play that night against the Lakers. However, he did attend the game and watched from the team’s bench as the Blazers won 107-105.
It was important, Hart said, for him to support his new teammates. He said he hasn’t played on teams that were very close off the court and hopes that will be different in Portland.
“I wanted to let those guys know that I’m their brother for life,” Hart said. “If they need anything, I’m just one phone call away. That’s something that I wanted to show those guys.”
Billups would also like to see Hart lead by example and set the tone for how he wants the team to play.
“I just want him to just be who he is,” Billups said. “I think just simply who he is as a player and as a person is going to make us better. It’s going to add to what we’re trying to do.”
That’s all music to Hart’s ears.
“It’s exciting to have a coach who is on the same page as me, a franchise that I feel like I fit well in,” he said.
The Blazers plan to be active in the offseason as they rebuild around Damian Lillard. That means there is a chance Hart could be moved in a deal that brings back a player that better fits their master plan.
As the roster stands now, Lillard would likely start in the backcourt along with Anfernee Simons. Nassir Little would be the starting small forward unless the Blazers land a proven star at that position. Power forward and center, depending on what happens with Jusuf Nurkic, remain up in the air.
Hart could start at small forward or play a backup role at shooting guard and small forward. The options are many. Whatever happens, Hart said he wants to be a part of what the Blazers are putting together.
“I’m not really aiming for a fourth franchise and a sixth coach,” Hart said. “We’ll see. Obviously, we know it’s a business. My biggest thing is controlling what I can control. That’s the way I approach the game, the way I approach practice, the way I get better.”
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