Blazers improve roster with last-minute deadline deal

Gerald Wallace is just what Portland needed—and never mind the basketball team; it’s mainly this city that needed him.

Gerald Wallace is just what Portland needed—and never mind the basketball team; it’s mainly this city that needed him. Last Wednesday, with less than 10 minutes before the end of the NBA trade deadline, the Portland Trailblazers pulled off a crunch-time deal, sending forward Dante Cunningham, centers Joel Pryzbilla and Sean Marks, plus two future first-round draft picks to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for Wallace.

“It’s an exciting team,” Wallace told The Oregonian last week. “A team that’s in the hunt, for not only a playoff berth, but a championship…I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Wallace’s excitement is matched by the enthusiasm of the fans. The all-star forward was greeted by a chorus of cheers at the airport when he arrived in Portland on Friday. When his picture was displayed on the big screen during Friday night’s game, the Rose Garden erupted for an extended ovation. The atmosphere was absolutely electric for Wallace’s debut on Sunday night, feeling more like a late February playoff game than simply a regular-season contest.

“Hopefully, [I’ll bring] that energy, get out on the court and pick it up on the defensive end,” Wallace told radio station 95.5 “The Game” in a pre-game interview. “Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it.”

Energy is exactly what Wallace has already provided for this franchise and its fans. The excitement coursing through this town could be heard on the radio shows and read on the Internet forums over the weekend. For a city that once dreamed of championships, only to have their hopes repeatedly shattered by injuries and disappointment, a dose of good news was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“I haven’t been this excited about the Blazers all year,” said Paul Eisl, a Blazers fan and recent Portland State graduate. “[The Blazers] should have made this move a long time ago. Wallace makes us a dangerous team.”

Earning the nickname “Crash” in his seven years with Charlotte, the 6-foot-7 Wallace is a player known for his aggression and athleticism, averaging 18.2 points and 10.1 rebounds in an all-star campaign last season.

“I just want to come out and fit in, just want to get my feet wet,” Wallace said before his debut. “The main thing is to just get settled in and get accustomed to the guys.”

On Sunday night, the Blazers received a reality check against Atlanta, as Wallace and the team struggled to find their rhythm in a 90-83 loss. Although Wallace only managed to shoot 4 of 12 from the field, fans still got a glimpse of the intangibles the 28-year-old forward brings, as he grabbed five rebounds, two steals and a block in 29 minutes. Wallace’s presence should help the Blazers build momentum and improve their playoff positioning down the final stretch.

“It’s always a great thrill [to be on a winning team],” Wallace told 95.5. “That’s what you play 82 games for, to get into the postseason, and this is a team that’s right in the hunt and moving fast, so it’s a great feeling and I’m looking forward to it.”

If the Blazers can ever get healthy, then becoming a championship contender isn’t entirely out of the question—just don’t expect it to happen this season. Portland will still have to find a long-term solution for the point guard position, and will need to add depth up front during the off-season. Things won’t happen overnight. It will take time for the roster to gel and for players to adjust to their new roles. But even if another first-round playoff exit is likely, at least Blazers fans are free to dream big once again. ?