Portland Trail Blazers: The J.J Hickson Dilemma

To trade J.J. Hickson or not, that is the $7.6 million dollar question that the Portland Trail Blazers face as today's NBA trade deadline approaches.

As of noon today, NBA teams will essentially be stuck with the rosters they have until free agency and the draft this summer. The NBA rumor mill has been relatively quiet heading into this year’s deadline, with Atlanta's Josh Smith and Dallas' Vince Carter being the only “big names” to be thrown around with any legitimacy.
Despite the low amount of big-trade rumors, a good number of moves will surely still be made around the league this morning, likely of both the big and small variety. The real question is: do the Blazers take part in any of the last-minute action?
The Blazers have their core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, all of which won't be going anywhere. They also have a historically bad bench that won't draw too much, if any, interest from other GM's around the league. This leaves Hickson as the only real movable piece the Blazers have, and move him they should.
Hickson's stock has never been higher as he is having a career year, averaging roughly 13 points and 10 rebounds per game so far this season. He is currently making just $4 million and will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Which means if the Blazers want to keep him moving forward, they will have to pay him handsomely this offseason.
A good number of teams will likely be willing to pay the roughly $7.6 million dollar max contract Hickson will require this offseason, but are the Blazers going to be the team to do so?  If their answer is yes: expect a quiet morning in the Rose Quarter offices. If their answer is no: a move must be made. It does the Blazers (who are currently riding a six-game losing streak and are three games below .500) no good to stand pat with Hickson if they aren't willing to spend the money on him this offseason.
While it is true the Blazers would likely win more this season if they decide to keep Hickson; is that really a good thing? The Blazers are currently the 13th worst team in the league and if they want any chance at improving through the draft this offseason, they need to get to the 12th worst spot at least.
Portland owes the Charlotte Bobcats a first-round draft pick (from the Gerald Wallace trade last season) and they will have to hand that pick over this offseason if they earn the 13th pick or later. Given the current state of the bench, not having a first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft isn't a viable option.
By trading away Hickson, not only will the Blazers likely fall far enough down the standings to assure they retain their pick next year, they also could collect another team's first round pick in the process. While it is believed that the upcoming draft may not be an especially deep class, two first-round picks (especially if both somehow are lottery picks) could improve the Blazers' bench drastically. Last offseason the Blazers had that exact luxury when drafting and they were able to grab Lillard and Meyers Leonard with a pair of lottery picks.
Lillard has turned out to be the likely rookie of the year and appears to be the Blazers’ future, while Leonard looks as though he could be a viable center down the road. Two more first-round picks (even if they were raw like Leonard) would be much more help to the Blazers' starters than the current bench.
In the end, it will likely be a moot point given the fact that the viable trade opportunities for Hickson are limited, especially since he holds the final call on a trade due to his no-trade clause. However, the fact remains if an offer for Hickson comes across Neil Olshey's desk this morning the Blazers have to take it if they aren’t planning on re-signing him come July.
Vince Tushner is on Twitter. Follow him at @SportsVince21

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