Start of Free Agency: Where Does Portland Go From Here?

Despite an end to the season that saw the Portland Trail Blazers seemingly lose the will to go on, the season was not a loss.  The team performed above expectations for most of the year, and Damian Lillard showed an ability to dominate on offense in just his first year in the league.  Between Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, the team has a strong core to build around.

Building a bench is the number one priority.  It is also priority two, three and four.  According to HoopsStats, the Blazers had the worst bench this season, with a negative 17.9 points efficiency, twice as bad as the closest team.  The bench averaged only 18.5 points per game, also worst in the league.

The return of Elliot Williams from a torn Achilles will help boost the bench, and some improvement from 2012 second-round pick Meyers Leonard is to be expected. But another large forward and a guard capable of scoring when needed will be the key.  Eric Maynor was supposed to be that guard, and he showed flashes of brilliance during the season, but will need to be more consistent.

As for the final starting position, Leonard is not ready to start, and signs point to J.J. Hickson testing the free agent market.  Replacing his rebounding and shot-blocking in the middle would fall into a free agent.  The Blazers could try to play the restricted free agent game with their eternal buddies in Minnesota and try and take Nikola Pekovic, but the Wolves will likely match any offer the Blazers could throw.  Lamar Odom could be good fit with Aldridge, but Odom would likely need some persuasion to leave a comfy position with the Clippers.  Tyler Hansbrough could use a change of scenery from the Pacers, but as a restricted free agent, the Blazers would likely have to overpay for a player that lacks elite NBA level shot blocking or rebounding.  Filling this spot through the draft is a tough proposition as well.

If Hickson leaves, the best option seems to be Chris Kaman from the Dallas Mavericks.  If he plays anywhere near the level he was at with the Clippers two years ago, the Blazers could have a real weapon in the middle.  For another scorer off the bench, Andrei Kirilenko would be a replacement as a three-point artist for unrestricted free agent Luke Babbitt, if he declines his option with the Timberwolves.  Nick Young from the 76ers is another good choice; a scorer with the ability to steal at will, but he is inconsistent and his passing is suspect.  With the Blazers so close to the cap, any players signed will have to be at a discount.

While the cap situation is unfriendly to Portland right now, the core group that Portland has puts them in a strong position for the next several years.  They are three role players away from being a force in the Western Conference.  What the team does from here will be interesting to watch.

About Arran Gimba