The Portland Trail Blazers were the surprise team of the league last season. They started the year slowly, but an 18-7 stretch in January and February put them in the thick of the playoff hunt. They finished with a 44-38 record, then defeated the depleted Los Angeles Clippers in the first round before eventually bowing out to the Golden State Warriors.
Management locked into their core, re-signing Meyers Leonard, matching an offer sheet for Allen Crabbe, then adding to the roster by signing Evan Turner. The moves didn’t really pay off; Portland regressed to a .500 team this season, only sneaking into the playoffs after making a deadline move for center Jusuf Nurkić. The Blazers were swept by the Warriors, and now enter the offseason without much financial flexibility to work with.
I don’t think the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum duo will be broken up, but let’s say management decides to go that route because of their defense. Which one would you rather see go?
I think it’s clear just from a PR perspective that if GM Neil Olshey is intent on moving either one of the two guards, it’s McCollum. Trading away Lillard would be a local PR nightmare for the franchise, given how invested Lillard has been in the city and the team and how invested the team has been in Lillard. He means too much to the city for him to leave this team, either by choice through free agency or by trade.
It also makes sense to choose Lillard over McCollum from a basketball perspective. While not the shooter McCollum is, Lillard is a better and more willing facilitator and passer. He can create open looks for his teammates. Both for their careers and just last season, Lillard is close to doubling McCollum’s assist percentage.
Interesting. McCollum for, say, Paul George — how would you feel about that?
I’d have to strongly consider that deal. My only reason for hesitation or fear would be that he can leave as soon as 2018. I don’t like the idea of trading my second-best player for a possible one-year rental. Though I’d give it strong consideration, I don’t think I’d do it.
Portland has three first-rounders (15, 20, 26) in a very deep draft. From a strategic standpoint, what would you rather see them do: use them to add young, cheap assets, or use them as sweeteners to offload some bad salaries?
This depends purely on how much money owner Paul Allen is willing to spend for what will likely be a mediocre team for the years to come. If it’s important to him that money gets moved, I think Portland should explore packaging some of those picks to move the contracts of Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, or Allen Crabbe.
If the price tag isn’t an issue for Mr. Allen, I think the best course of action would be to move Leonard with one or two of the picks. If it takes two to move him, sit pat and use the third pick to draft a player. If it only takes a single pick, I think it makes sense to try and package the remaining two to move up in the draft if a deal becomes available.
Let’s say Portland opts to keep the picks. Who are some players you’d like to see them target?
I think O.G. Anunoby from Indiana is a player Portland should take a flier on if he’s available at either No. 15 or No. 20:
He’s a defensive stud who’s capable of guarding the 1-4. His shot didn’t seem to progress in his sophomore year at Indiana, but there’s hope that under Terry Stotts, that becomes a bit more consistent. The fear with Anunoby is the state of his knee. He suffered a non-contact knee injury during the season, and though the Hoosiers were tight-lipped about it, it’s suspected to have been a torn ACL. Even with that, I think he’s worth a flier for this Portland team.
Another player I’d love to see Portland target in the draft is Zach Collins from Gonzaga. He broke out during this year’s Final Four and his draft stock among lottery teams has been rising. He’s young (just finished his freshman season), a good defender, and didn’t look bad on offense, I thought. I’m highly skeptical he’s still on the board when Portland goes on the clock at No. 15. If by some miracle he is, I think it’s obvious. I wouldn’t hate to see Portland try to move up and draft him (if the price is reasonable, of course).
Who are some players you think the Blazers should target in free agency this summer?
Obviously, Portland is very limited in what they can do in free agency, due to their disgusting salary spreadsheet. By my understanding, the only tool they have to sign a player this summer is the taxpayer mid-level exception, which is estimated to be around $5.2M in 2017-18. That likely isn’t going to be enough to sign a difference-maker. However, if Portland can clear some money to bring in someone, I’d look strongly at Andre Roberson, Dewayne Dedmon, and Joe Ingles.
Roberson is one of the best defensive players in the league and will probably end up on one of this season’s All-Defense teams. He’s able to guard the opponent’s best player, something Portland doesn’t have very much of. However, his game on the offensive end is pitiful. He cannot shoot the basketball. He’s best cutting to the basket. Unfortunately for Portland, Roberson is a restricted free agent, meaning Oklahoma City will have the right to match any offer sheet he signs.
Dedmon was the defensive anchor for one of the best teams on that end of the floor this season in the San Antonio Spurs. While he’s not young (will turn 28 before the start of next season), he fits the timeline Portland wants to maintain around Lillard. He has a player option this summer that he’s expected to opt out of, as his current deal was very, very cheap. He would be a nice fit for the Blazers next to Nurkić in the frontcourt.
Ingles had probably the best season of his career this year in Utah and became one of the league’s best three-point shooters (especially from the corners). He’s a capable wing ball handler who can create his own shot, to some degree, which I think is a big need on the wing for this Portland team. However, like Roberson, Ingles is also a restricted free agent and Utah will have the right to match any offer sheet he signs.