The Blazers’ plan to rebuild the team over the next few years pivots around Rasheed Wallace, or rather, around his departure. His contract expires at the end of the season, and letting him leave as a free agent would save the team a lot of money, as well as ridding it of a volatile, inconsistent headache. The problem with this idea is that letting your most talented player walk away without getting anything in return is not a particularly effective way to maintain a successful team. It’s not like the Blazers are competing for a title in the stacked Western Conference, but it would be nice to sneak into the top eight and extend the team’s 21-year playoff streak. Unfortunately, all the trades that other teams were rumored to be offering for Wallace involved taking on overrated players with horrible contracts (Keith van Horn, Antawn Jamison, etc.), which would not only be a drop in the quality of play, but would hurt the team’s plans to be under the salary cap in 2005. So the odds of a deal happening seemed slim. At least, that’s what I thought.

Shows what I know. Portland has somehow managed to trade Rasheed to Atlanta for Shareef Abdur-Raheem and Theo Ratliff. Abdur-Raheem is a consistent scorer and rebounder, and Ratliff is the top shot-blocker in the NBA. Even better, both of their contracts expire next year, so the Blazer’s long-term plans remain intact. For the Hawks’ part, Rasheed’s $17 million contract comes off their books this summer, which will help with their own never-ending rebuilding effort.

Of course, all this happens just as the Blazers seem to finally be playing some decent defense and winning games (seven of their last eight). But with a slew of major changes already on the books this season (goodbye Rasheed, Bonzi Wells, and Jeff McInnis; hello Shareef, Theo, and Darius Miles) and a couple weeks left to make more moves before the trade deadline (Dale Davis is the most likely to go; Ruben Patterson and perhaps Qyntel Woods are also very available), the mood among Portland’s fans is shifting from desultory to anticipatory, which is always more fun.