Kaman Blake

Have The Portland Trail Blazers Improved This Offseason?

Amidst all the headline news of LeBron James and his eventual return home to Cleveland, there was actually some other things going on around the NBA, believe it or not.  What I want to talk about is the loss of Mo Williams and the signing of both Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. These moves in Rip City seemed to be quite minor, and seemingly ineffective to the franchise when looked at through a national media standpoint (I think the “article” on ESPN about our signings took me about 15 seconds to read), but they will have a much bigger impact than what is currently being perceived. I’m not going to talk about these moves as if they were franchise altering, championship contender moves, because quite frankly they weren’t, but they did have a positive outcome when looking at the new roster.

Let’s start with the guy we lost. Mo Williams was the only consistently effective player coming off our bench last year; we had Thomas Robinson and Will Barton showed some sparks, but it wasn’t even close to being consistent. Williams averaged about 10 points 4 assists and 2 rebounds per contest during his one-year stint with the Blazers while shooting 42 % from the field.  He definitely wasn’t the same Mo Williams that played with LeBron James in Cleveland, and I feel like he forced a lot of bad shots throughout the season, but he provided a spark and was a decently reliable 6th man to help back up Damian Lillard (or sometimes even play on the court alongside him). At first, when Mo decided to opt out of his contract with the Blazers, there were still many who believed he would end up back in Portland next year, but that quickly changed after Portland’s recent roster moves, which will be discussed shortly. As of now, it doesn’t look like Mo will be back, but the fans did like him, and he was definitely somebody we needed and valued after our historically bad bench in the 2012-2013 season. So to Mo Williams, on behalf of Rip City, we thank you!

As far as signings go, let me start with the big guy out of Central Michigan. Within the first 6 hours of the Kaman signing, I had a ridiculous amount of texts blow up my phone from friends who were so baffled, and seemingly mad about what we had just done with our mid-level exception. I have since explained the reasoning behind the signing to all of them, and have a lot of them on board with our first move of the offseason, you’re welcome Chris.

Kaman is a veteran big man in the NBA who is still very capable of producing solid numbers, other than his injury problems he might even be capable enough to start if needed. At 32 years old, it is safe to safe that Kaman has reached his peak, and is probably on the back side of his NBA career, but he is still young enough to put up some solid playing time on a team that desperately needed help with their backup big man situation. You know how I feel about the Meyers Leonard project, and please don’t get me started on Joel Freeland and his long-term effectiveness. Last year in Los Angeles, Chris Kaman was in a terrible basketball situation. He didn’t fit into Mike D’Antoni’s run and gun system, but he still managed to put up 10.5 points 6 rebounds and 1 block per contest while only playing an average of 18 minutes per game. When I saw his minutes played numbers, I was completely blown away that he could be this efficient in such a short amount of time (exactly what is needed in a bench player). To put this in perspective, Joel Freeland averaged 14 minutes per game (about 4 less than Kaman), and only put up 3 points 4 rebounds and not even half a block. I would say we definitely made an improvement in our center department Portland! Kaman was an all star at one point in his career, seems like a great guy off the court (even gave me the twitter follow), still has plenty left in the tank to help bolster our defensive line, and makes this team even a little more scary in the playoffs. I can’t wait to see him in a Trail Blazers jersey. Welcome to Rip City, Chris!

A couple days after the Kaman news was announced, rumors started flying in that someone else was on our radar as well, someone that the front office and most of the current roster already knew plenty about. Steve Blake, or as Kobe once called him, “8-Mile”, was indeed that man, and a day or so after the speculation started flying around, it was made official that we were indeed bringing Mr. Blake back to Portland. The Blake signing was what essentially ruled out the possibility of bringing back Mo for another year; it wouldn’t make sense to have Steve Blake and Mo coming off the bench when you are still trying to groom some young guys in CJ McCollum (and apparently Will Barton if you caught the Summer League game) into capable point guards.

Steve Blake is 34 years old, and has struggled with some injuries in his last couple seasons with the Lakers, but was actually having a decent year before being traded during the 2013-2014 season. Blake was averaging 10 points 7.5 assists 4 rebounds and 1 steal a game before being traded about half way through the season, but he was playing starter minutes. He won’t get as many minutes in Portland, but it is nice to see that he can still be a capable point guard in this league. After looking at his last season stats, his point per game average is a little lower than Mo Williams, but his assists are higher and I don’t think he will need as many shots as Mo either, which leaves more shots on the table for our plethora of more than capable scorers to take. His addition should be another one that bolsters our bench and helps us take that next step forward towards being a solid playoff team.

Although neither of these signings have the “wow” factor, and they definitely won’t push the Blazers into “contender” status in the eyes of many, they seem to be great improvements to a relatively weak Portland bench. Kaman is a HUGE upgrade from any backup big that we have on the roster, and Blake provides a veteran presence off the bench that Portland needs for some of these young guys to hopefully develop. Another nice thing about these two signings is that they both have some playoff experience, so they know what its like to be there and hopefully know how to handle the playoff atmosphere. Hopefully this read has made some of the naysayers re-think their views on the recent signings, because even though they aren’t blockbusters, they should still make this an improved roster come tip-off night.

About Jory Monroe

Jory Monroe is a writer for Oregon Sports News.