Posted by Sekou Smith
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The rumbling has been going on for months.
Portland swingman Rudy Fernandez is on the trading block, that’s no secret. And if you go by first impressions alone, there is a lot to like.
A slender swingman with deep range and a wicked first step, Fernandez is the sort of fearless, moderately priced and athletic role player good teams love to have. Fernandez flashed the same swashbuckling style he displayed for the Spanish national team in his rookie season with the Trail Blazers two years ago.
But last season things took a twisted turn for the worse. His statistical dip was slight across the board. A microdisectomy, a surgery to relieve pressure from a nerve root in his back that caused pain in his right leg, performed in December no doubt played a part in his struggles.
He missed 19 games after the procedure and never seemed to regain his stride (or perhaps the confidence of Blazers coach Nate McMillan).
Still, in a free-agent summer when no player and nothing is sacred and seemingly anyone can be had for the right price, how is it that a player like Fernandez is still in limbo? (The Prime Minister first raised the question after the weekend, sparking a larger conversation here at the hideout.)
Chicago was rumored to be chasing him in a trade, their quest to add as many different options at shooting guard as possible knowing no end. But they’ve since signed veteran swingman Keith Bogans, a better defender with a much sturdier body but with not nearly as much bounce as Fernandez.
The Bulls could still land Fernandez, though he’d be walking into the same sort of crowded situation at his position that he did in Portland a couple of years ago.
What’s hard to fathom is a player losing as much shine as Fernandez has in such a short time. His work during international competition certainly made an impression here at the hideout. Then he stormed the league in his first year, draining more 3-pointers than any other rookie in league history, a feat that’s even more outlandish when you realize he started just four games that season.
We suspect he’ll turn some heads at the world championships in Turkey later this month. Will a solid, or even spectacular, showing there be enough to raise his stock with NBA teams?
Maybe … maybe not.
We checked with two Western Conference scouts and one Eastern Conference executive about Fernandez and got lukewarm responses about him, which we must admit was a bit surprising.
While they acknowledge the talent and explosive scoring ability, all three voiced concerns about the fit in Portland and potentially anywhere that Fernandez doesn’t warm to immediately.
“Something was missing from his game last season. He just didn’t play with any fire the times I watched him,” the Eastern Conference executive said. “For a guy whose games is all about energy and passion, that was an alarming sign for me. But he’s still young, just 25, and learning his way around this league. So I wouldn’t close the book on him yet.”
We’re willing to give Fernandez the benefit of the doubt.
The transition from international star to NBA role player is a tough one. And not everyone manages it as well as guys like Manu Ginobili (who was obviously more than just a “role player” when he came to the San Antonio Spurs) and Luis Scola have.
We’re expecting big things from Fernandez this season, be it in Portland or somewhere else.