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Sergio-Conley Conundrum In Portland?

A Daily Babble Production

Travis Outlaw and Mike Conley are the supposed main characters of a recent trade rumor reported by Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski.  But deciding which young point guard - Conley or Sergio Rodriguez - is the better investment may be the key to Kevin Pritchard's thinking as the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies explore a possible multi-player deal.

According to Wojnarowski's report, the deal is going nowhere fast at the moment, but that doesn't make the thought of it any less intriguing.  Word thus far has any potential deal centered on Portland sending Outlaw and Rodriguez to Memphis for Conley, Hakim Warrick and possibly Javaris Crittenton.

Conley was the fourth pick in the 2007 draft and has a history both as an amateur teammate and close friend of one Greg Oden.  The second-year southpaw point guard from Ohio State is only 21 years old and has explosive quickness to the hole and a pass-first mentality.  While he has been largely underwhelming over his first season and change in the pros, Conley averaged better than 11 points and 6 assists per game while shooting nearly 52 percent from the field in his one year as a Buckeye.  He played an impressive NCAA tournament and displayed a skill set throughout that 2006-07 season that helped him nearly to the top of the lottery and left many expecting him to join the NBA's point guard elite in the years to come.  The youngster no doubt has plenty of allure, and while the magnitude of the impact of his relationship with Oden is debatable, his chemistry with the big man could hardly be expected to hurt the Blazers.

But the Portland isn't exactly strapped in its own department of young point guards with upside, and that's where this gets interesting.

Rodriguez does not have the national name recognition that Conley does because unlike the latter, he did not play collegiate ball for a national finalist, was not a lottery pick and is not Greg Oden's childhood best friend.  But the Spanish guard is just a year older than Conley and has long left some Portland fans smitten with his oodles of potential.  As we discussed in this space recently, the guy sees the floor beautifully and times his passes very well off the dribble and jump-stops, and while he might not have elite-level quickness, he does get in the lane well enough to cause trouble. 

His per-minute production has tantalized the Blazer faithful thus far, with Rodriguez averaging 9.1 assists per 36 minutes in his rookie season, dropping to 7.1 last year and picking that figure back up to 9.9 this season.  That said, he is playing a career-high 15.1 minutes per game right now and thus has put up his production over a rather small sample size thus far.  Like Conley, Rodriguez isn't a great shooter from distance, but after some early-season discord with the coaching staff and front office, he has been playing more and impressing observers with his overall performance at both ends of the floor as of late.  What remains to be seen is whether the young import can be the franchise point guard for this team down the road (Blazer fan readers TheGreatDane417 and einman77 did a fine job of filling us in on fan perspective about this last time we mused about Sergio).

Beyond that first question lies a second for which I don't have an answer: How likely is it that Rodriguez matures into a better player than Conley?

If the Blazers aren't sure that Conley is definitively their preference, it would be imprudent to make a move involving not only Rodriguez but another one of their key players off the bench.  Outlaw scored 13.3 points per game as sixth man a season ago and is currently second to Rudy Fernandez in bench scoring at 11.2 per game for the Blazers.  Though he isn't a favorite in this space, he deserves credit for providing a scoring punch as well as for working to improve his three-point touch in recent seasons, shooting 39.6 percent a season ago and getting off to a hot start at 49 percent from deep this season.  A six-year vet, the Starkville High School product is only 24 years old, and the versatile backup small forward plays starter minutes (27.9 per game) and is currently an important part of this team.  While Warrick might be able to provide some similar features to those of Outlaw's game, the timing seems odd to mess with the young core of a team that is just starting to hit its stride if the front office isn't certain of an upgrade here.

Meanwhile, one would be remiss to leave Jerryd Bayless out of the discussion.  The rookie combo guard from Arizona could factor into the mix with Sergio as well for point guard of the future in the land of the Rose Garden.  While veteran Steve Blake continues to hold down the starting spot, he isn't believed to be the long-term solution there, and the Blazers traded for Bayless on draft night as another eventual alternative.  There are concerns about his overly shoot-first nature, but the guy does have an explosiveness and an ability to stretch the floor with his touch, and that could prove valuable for the Blazers as well.

When I first caught wind of this rumor, my impulse was to jump at the idea of bringing in Conley from the Blazers' perspective.  The guy wasn't picked fourth overall in the draft by accident.  Between playing under an inexperienced head coach and alongside two high-usage-low-sharing wing players in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, he hasn't been in the easiest situation in Memphis.  I'm still quite a believer that this guy has it in him to become a big-time point guard in the Association.  But after mulling it over and reading Dave's post as well as the discussion from the well-informed fan base over at Blazer's Edge (love that site), I'm finding myself wondering (even as someone who wouldn't be too concerned about dumping Outlaw) if Conley represents enough of an upgrade over Rodriguez (or even Bayless) in the long-term.

That's the thing about potential: We never truly know what it's worth before it is actualized.  So please, you tell me: Would dealing for Mike Conley be a no-brainer for the Blazers, or would we (and the Blazers' front office) be best served to take a sip of the Sergio Rodriguez kool-aid?

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