PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey already knows plenty about what Arron Afflalo can bring to Portland. Now all that’s left is the chemistry.
The Blazers acquired Afflalo and forward Alonzo Gee in a five-player deal with the Nuggets at the trading deadline. In return, Portland sent Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and Victor Claver and a lottery-protected 2016 draft pick to Denver.
In a video posted to social media, Afflalo, who will wear No. 4 for the Blazers, declared: ”It’s championship time.”
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Afflalo and Gee joined their new teammates at practice on Saturday.
Coach Terry Stotts said he envisions the 6-foot-5 Afflalo will rotate in for both Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum as the Blazers make the push toward the playoffs.
Afflalo is averaging 14.5 points this season, but has struggled at times with his shooting touch. He’s hitting just under 43 percent from the floor, which would be his worst since his rookie season in 2007-08.
Olshey has followed Afflalo closely since the 29-year old was at UCLA, and then throughout his eight-year career that included stops in Detroit, Denver (twice) and Orlando. He’s been to the playoffs five times.
”I know he can help us,” Olshey said. We had a very specific set of criteria for anybody that we were going to acquire and Arron met every single criteria that we had established,” said Olshey. ”I think our veteran players are happy to add him, it gives us a better chance to win at a high level. That’s the goal this year: we’re in a win-now mode.”
The Trail Blazers are 36-18 this season, coming off a 92-76 loss at Utah on Friday night. The team is even with Houston in third place in the Western Conference standings.
Olshey talked to Blazers’ All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard before making the move.
”I think the move is going to help us in the long-term. It’s hard to see guys go, but I think that trade should help us down the stretch,” Aldridge said.
The Blazers had something of a rocky first half, marked by several key injuries, but wound up with an identical record at the All-Star break as they had last year. Center Robin Lopez missed 23 games with a fractured hand, and Aldridge briefly considered surgery to repair ligament damage in his left thumb, but decided to play through the pain.
”With L.A. coming back, postponing his surgery because he feels this is a special team and a special year and we can do big things, going and getting a veteran player like Afflalo, who has been in playoff games and big games, to help a team win now, it just kind of shows that this is what we’re about,” Matthews said. ”We want to play into June.”
Gee, who is wearing No. 33 in Portland, is a six-year veteran forward who played in Washington, San Antonio and Cleveland before landing in Denver, where he averaged 4.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 13.1 in 39 games this season.
The players did say it was sad to see teammates Barton, Robinson and Claver go.
Barton – who once declared himself as the ”People’s Champ”- appeared in 30 games this season, averaging 3.0 points, 1.1 rebounds and 10 minutes.
Barton left a heartfelt thanks to the Blazers and their fans on his Facebook page.
”This team took a chance and drafted me and for that I am very grateful. It was a blessing to be given the opportunity to be a part of such a great organization,” he wrote. ”I’m going to miss everyone that is a part of this team; the coaches, my teammates and most importantly, some of the greatest fans in the world! It was a great run … the memories will last forever. Goodbye (hash)RipCity.”
Robinson, also a fan favorite, in December became the third player in team history with 15 or more points and rebounds in his first start along with Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton.
Claver, a little-used 6-foot-9 small forward from Spain, appeared in 12 games this season, averaging 2.4 points.