So far this offseason, the Portland Trail Blazers have spent $4.25M on free agents (in terms of 2018/19 cap hit), and 29 year old reserve center Ed Davis was allowed to walk for the price of $4.4M. Doing some quick math, the Blazers were not willing to pay $150K to keep Davis, and that’s assuming he would not have accepted less.
Now the easy assumption is that Portland offered less, but it was too low, and Davis accepted a reasonable deal in the neighborhood of what he and his agent felt he was worth. For comparison, DeMarcus Cousins took a one-year $5.3M deal to join the Warriors, which was considered insane for what he could have taken on the open market. For the record, Cousins is probably worth more than one million dollars more than Davis, in the right situation. But not Portland.
Most fans seem to agree that Davis was a player the team needed to keep, and a $4.4M deal wasn’t insane to re-sign him. Whereas the fan base seems to be split on Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, and more specifically if they are the answer to the front court. And even those groups are split down the middle on if they like both players at the same time.
So the obvious plan would be to keep a veteran you already know works on this team in order to maintain a solid core that you add to year to year. This makes the decision to let Davis walk make even less sense. Currently only Collins, Al-Faraq Aminu, and Moe Harkless are Blazers front court players under contract for the 2018-19 season that earned solid minutes last year. Yes, I see your hand raised, the team still has Meyers Leonard, I haven’t forgotten.
Let’s pretend that Chief and Harkless can man the 3 spot all year and defend the opponent’s best player, something they have had plenty of time to make happen and yet the jury is still out. To round out the roster, GM Neil Olshey brought in 24 year old reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas and 27 year old point guard Seth Curry. He also drafted 19 year old shooting guard Anfernee Simons and 19 year old shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. Don’t forget we still have Evan Turner lurking somewhere. That’s 11 players potentially in the rotation before you even start counting Nurkic or any super reserve/DNP-coach’s decision candidates.
If they stopped making moves right now, Portland is hovering right at or under the luxury tax threshold, with Nurkic still a free agent waiting on a new deal. And the contracts keeping this rich team poor won’t break until after next season. Which is the only way any of this makes any sense at all – if Portland is trying tread water while they wait out some bad deals signed in the summer of 2016.
For a team that was supposed to be much more aggressive in the draft and free agency, I don’t think I’m alone in wondering what in the world the front office is doing and how this makes them better than the 49-33 team that earned the #3 seed in a stacked Western Conference and was rudely swept out of the playoffs.
Houston and Golden State are still the best in the league, while Minnesota and Oklahoma City will probably be better now that they have had time to gel, and then there are the Jazz and Spurs who will always be scary.
And now you have to worry about the Lakers who reloaded with LeBron. The Pelicans dumped two key players in Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, but still have Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic and Jrue Holiday so Portland will have to deal with them also.
That’s seven teams that are potentially as good or better than Portland before they even play one game, and we haven’t discussed what the reloaded Suns or Mavericks could look like.
We know Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are superstars, but what about the rest of the team? Can they compete with this insanely crowded Western Conference? We asked similar questions this time last year, and the Blazers found a way to compete all the way to the top 3 without any major changes, but then couldn’t win one game when it mattered.
What will the result be if they are down Nurkic and/or Davis? The really bizarre story is that Portland tried to orchestrate a sign and trade with New Orleans and Cousins that would have sent Nurkic and Cousins to their third team each in four seasons. If they are going for the small-ball approach with an athletic center that can thrive in an outside-in type of game, why would they pursue another post player in Cousins who struggles to keep his head in the game and/or stretch the floor?
There are still players available to sign and players to trade for and a lot of summer left to do it, but the first week of free agency has been very head scratching to say the least.
Olshey seems to be working toward a big move, but in the time he has been GM, we have yet to see the big move this team has needed. Danny Ainge seems to always make the right move (eventually), and on this side of the map, Olshey seems to always just miss out on a big hit. He has hit big time on draft picks in Lillard and McCollum but struggled to fill out the roster beyond that. If Nurkic is on another roster next year, most of the moves Olshey has worked on will have amounted to a neutral impact with a serviceable roster that isn’t going any farther than the roster he took over six years ago.
If Lillard and McCollum aren’t enough star power for potential targets, and that appears to be the case, this team is in trouble. Is Portland doomed to be good enough to make the playoffs but not go on a deep run? To be a team that’s fun to watch but doesn’t win when it counts? To be good enough to miss out on the high draft picks that could turn their fortunes around?
What is the team doing? Have they already given up on the 2019 season?
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I have been a Trailblazer fan since watching the news as a Midwestern transplant the year they won their only championship..I watched the celebration downtown and have been waiting to witness again firsthand..I have been scratching my head so many years I no longer have hair….just seem to be the most entertaining losers ever??