Not surprisingly, Blazer-related knews is not exactly abundant at the moment. You know, with them having been out of the playoffs for like a month and the NBA Finals looming and so forth. That isn't to say Portland hasn't been busy. There have been draft workouts, exit interviews, and so on. While the players enjoy a bit of a vacation, the management's real season is just getting underway. And with that in mind, I will briefly don my GM cap, channel my inner KP, and try to work out the Blazers' offseason.
Likely Departing Players
Ranking from "All but Certain" to "Possibly Not, but Worth Mentioning"
Raef Lafrenz- massive expiring contract
Michael Ruffin- won't be missed
Channing Frye- has a team option on his contract that isn't likely to be picked up, making him a free agent. I'm willing to imagine some team out there would be happy to have his services, he just isn't a good fit in Portland.
Sergio Rodriguez- If he leaves it will be via trade, but KP makes a bazillion (yes, I used the word bazillion) trades in the offseason. Sergio's had a ton of chances to prove himslef and hasn't made any significant strides.
Travis Outlaw- He's probably Portand's best trading chip, because it's not like Portland has to get rid of him so they would have leverage. Furthermore, his physical attributes and smooth jumper would be appealing to other teams who don't know him well enough to realize that's all he does.
Shav Randolph- Likely to go because his contract expires, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he gets another contract to be an insurance player (assuming nobody offers him a better deal elsewhere).
Most Pressing Areas of Need
Ranking from "Good God Get us this Now" to "Yeah, That Would Be Nice to Have"
1. Strong willed, hard nosed, hustling, banging backup PF:
With Frye leaving Portland needs to get a backup PF anyway, and outside of Joel Przybilla the Blazers lack a guy who hustles and plays rough. It's also important that this PF be a full time backup because Lamarcus Alrdidge deserves 35+ minutes a game, so no going after the likes of David Lee or Paul Millsap who would want 30 minutes as well.
2. Experienced veteran presence:
As a team Portland's greatest weakness is inexperience. Duh. They had the youngest active rotation in the league and were the youngest team by 3 years in the playoffs. Admittedly, this year's postseason will have added some valuable experience to the roster, but there still isn't anyone on the team that has played in the second round. Getting a guy who has made a significant playoff run, a guy who's been there and done that, without demanding a lot of touches or minutes is key.
The tricky thing here is, where do you put this guy? Portland has no room at center, where Przybilla and Greg Oden take all the minutes. Shooting guard is also out of the question since Brandon Roy gets 35+ minutes and Rudy Fernandez gets the rest. At the point there would be some minutes as Sergio has basically played himself out of Portland, Jerryd Bayless doesn't look ready to take the reigns, and Steve Blake doesn't exactly demand the same minutes as Aldridge and Roy. There's a logjam at small forward with Nicolas Batum emerging and starting 76 games, Martel Webster (the original projected starter) returning from injury and Travis Outlaw (assuming he's still around) taking about 10 minutes of small forward time off the bench. There's also the possibility of killing two birds with one stone and getting a backup PF who's an experience vet.
3. Another playmaker:
I'm not on board with a lot of the people saying Portland is weak at the point. In my opinion, Steve Blake is a fine PG for this team. He has his drawbacks, but it isn't like the Blazers can go out and get Chris Paul. They have to get a guy who fits the system, and Blake is that guy.
What Portland does lack is another guy willing to drive the lane and score. Brandon Roy does that, Bayless has potential to do so, and that is basically it. Maybe Rudy will develop some penetration skills, maybe Bayless will grow into the backup PG role. Or maybe not and Portland will have to go get somebody. I'm more in camp with the former than the latter, but regardless it's somethine that needs to be addressed.
4. Addition by subtraction:
This is something that hasn't been addressed much, but at some point in the rapidly approaching future Portland will have to trim the roster to an 8 man rotation. In the playoffs the Blazers did, but were unsure of how to play with each other because they hadn't played those lineups all year (for example, Roy-Rudy-Outlaw-Aldridge-Przybilla). Right now there are no less than 11 guys that deserve minutes, but there is no way they all get them.
There are really just two options- letting guys walk for nothing when their contracts run out (not the worst idea with the money Aldridge, Roy, and Oden will eventually likely be paid), or some 2 or 3-for-one trades. There are some guys who are truly untradable at this point (Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Joel, Bayless, and Rudy make that list for me and I'd assume KP's is more or less the same), but outside of them anyone could go for the right price. If such a trade happens it better be for a good player and it better be for a position of need, but I trust KP to make the right deals.
Ways to Acquire
There are three ways to get new players- the draft, trades, and free agency. Portland sits well in all three areas. Though thankfully out of the lottery for the first time in six years, the Blazers own five picks in the draft (numbers 24, 32, 38, 55, and 56). With Raef Lafrenz's contract coming off the books Portland will be anywhere from 6-10 million under the cap depending on what the NBA sets it as. This simultaneously allows them to sign a mid-level free agent or take on roughly 7 million more in a trade than they send out. Portland also has some tasty trade assets like Outlaw, Sergio, and those draft picks (though most of the picks are low enough they're more deal sweeteners than major parts of a trade).
Basically, the Blazers are in a flexible enough position to get any non-star player that they target...for the right price.
In the draft I can only be sure of one thing: the Blazers won't keep any of their picks. They haven't since Pritchard took over. Whether they trade up from #24 to #19-ish by throwing in other draft picks and get someone like Dejaun Blaire of Pittsburgh (a move I endorse), trade into the lottery by adding Outlaw and/or Rodriguez, or trade away the picks all together for either future selections or current veterans, I am 99% certain the Blazer will NOT be making their first selection at #24.
I also don't think there will be any big trades. Outlaw and Sergio may go, but I don't know what sort of value they will hold by mid-summer. A blockbuster would be shocking for me, because as I alluded to a major shakup would be detrimental to a team that had so much success. If a Jason Maxiell or an Anderson Varejao is there for the right price then yes, go for it. I just don't think the trading market is very fruitful this offseason in terms of what is available compared to what Portland needs. The Free Agent Market is much more promising.
Mike Bibby- I would be stunned if Atlanta let him go, and I also am not in the camp that says Portland needs a big name PG. However, Bibby's addition to Portland may be the move that puts them over the top. He does everything Blake does, and does everything he doesn't. He would seamlessly fit in to Portland's scheme and has extensive playoff experience. Bibby is a pipe dream though, as A) Portland probably wouldn't be able to afford him and B) Atlanta would be the AMCE of stupid if they let him go.
Jason Kidd- The market price for Kidd is a big murky at the moment. He obviously won't be payed $10 million-plus, but he's still a quality starter. If his price is reasonable I would hope, nay, DEMAND Portland do everything possible to get him. His veteran leadership, rebounding, a passing as well as the ability to hit the open shot would instantly make Portland a legit West contender. He'd only be around for a a couple of years, but hopefully by that time Bayless would be ready to take over. I reiterate, if Kidd is available for a price the Blazers can afford they HAVE to get him.
Chris Wilcox- Would fit the mold of a backup PF who can rebound and play with intensity. He also wouldn't be very expensive. I don't label him as much of a "must if available" as I do Kidd, but he would make a marked difference on the second unit.
Drew Gooden- I like him basically as much as I like Wilcox. My only concern is he will want more than the 15-20 minutes a game he would see in Portland. Gooden is a fine rebounder, a reliable scorer, and he's played in the NBA Finals. He also won't be very pricey.
Andre Miller- Much like Bibby, I'd be surprised if Philly let Miller walk. If they do, I imagine there is some team willing to overpay for him and Portland won't be able to get him anyway. If they can, they will like his ability to run a team but not be pleased with his lack of perimiter shooting.
Grant Hill- He's inexpensive, experienced, and a quality player. The only problem is he would force either Batum or Webster to scrub status.
What Will Happen
It's important to remember that Portland won 54 games last year and is the most talented young team in the NBA. They don't need a major shakeup, they need tweaking. No blockbuster deals, no breaking the bank for an aging superstar, no selling the farm to move into the top 2 in the draft. Roy and Aldridge will both be signing max or near-max extensions in the near future and that will limit their funding, and while owner Paul Allen has deep pockets that he's willing to reach in to there isn't any need for frivolous spending. That's how we got the Jail Blazers to begin with.
Keeping it simple is the key this offseason. KP hasn't let the Blazers down yet, and he's in a position to make minor, but key, changes this offseason. I trust he will make the right choices and put Portland in position for a deep playoff run next season.