Pieces to the Puzzles
Portland has had terrible luck in the last few years with both Brandon Roy and Greg Oden suffering career changing injuries, but things are finally looking up for the Trail Blazers. The continued development of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum and last year’s rookie of the year Damian Lillard has given Portland fans hope of a new era. Portland may not be “major” players in the 2013 Free Agency; they will let Dallas, Houston and Atlanta go hunting for the likes of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. However, Portland isn’t a team that really needs a guy like that nor do they have the cap flexibility to chase that caliber of player. The one area Portland does need to improve is its depth; Portland’s bench ranked worst in the league last year scoring just 18.5 PPG, grabbing just 10.5 RPG and maintaining a diabolical 21.1 efficiency rankings. The lack of depth in the Portland rotation was, in my opinion, the major contributing factor for their drop in performance after the All-Star break, going just 8-29 and ending the season on a thirteen-game losing streak. The good news, Portland fans, is the major problem with your team is relatively easy to fix. It simply requires Paul Allen to get his wallet out and sign some solid role players who will give the core guys some time to catch their breath but not impede their development.
The Free Agency departures in Portland only hold one name of real importance: JJ Hickson. Hickson arrived in Portland with something to prove after failing to earn his keep in Cleveland and Sacramento. He eventually had a breakout season playing as an incredibly undersized center and finishing the league 7th in rebounding with 10.4 per game. Hickson’s agent has suggested that Portland has not shown interest in resigning Hickson due to the price he will attract on the free agency market. That leaves a large gap to fill for a team who even WITH Hickson’s rebounds ranked just 24th in the league in Rebounds per Game (RPG). Other’s potentially leaving Portland are Elliot Williams, Sasha Pavlovic (Team Option), Nolan Smith, Luke Babbitt and Eric Maynor (Restricted Free Agent). Out of those names, perhaps Maynor has the best chance to return with his $3.3 million qualifying offer. Coming off a torn right anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2012, Maynor failed to rediscover his form in Portland, and the possibility for an offer in excess of $3.3 million elsewhere is slim.
Portland Trail Blazers Potential Depth Chart – 2013-14
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Damian Lillard||Wesley Matthews||Nicolas Batum||LaMarcus Aldridge||Meyers Leonard|
|Sasha Pavlovic||Victor Claver||Joel Freeland|
|Will Barton||Jared Jeffries|
As you can see from the table above, Portland has big holes at point guard and center, but also poor depth at every position, with SF/PF Luke Babbitt a three-point specialist who shot just 34.8% from three this year. The role players that Portland needs are easier to find than the stars which most teams pursue in free agency.
I came up with a preliminary list due to their position of need, skill set and the potential market price (shown below). From this group, I then selected three players which suited Portland the best in terms of fit and price. Portland’s team salary for next year will most likely be around $49 million (assuming Maynor returns and the addition of the numbers 10 & 39 draft picks. I discount the 40th and 50th pick as I believe these will be traded at some point near the draft as there is no way Portland wants three second-round picks coming into training camp). I have made my free agency suggestions with these assumptions in mind, but I am obviously aware that Portland’s cap space could change in the future.
Potential Free Agent Targets: CJ Watson, Josh McRoberts, Brandan Wright, JJ Reddick, Chase Budinger, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Copeland, Randy Foye.
Brandon Wright – H: 6’9″ W: 209 lbs Pos: PF/C
Brandon Wright never quite lived up to the expectation of being the 8th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, and his career has been severely hindered by injury. However, Wright quietly put up the best season of his career in Dallas this year, playing in 64 games (the most in one season for Wright) and putting up career highs with 16 MPG, 4.1 RPG and 8.5 PPG with an impressive PER of 21.03. Wright is capable of playing the PF or C position with his 7’3” wingspan and could really help Portland’s frontline, allowing Leonard another season or two to reach his potential. Unfortunately for Wright, his injury history and inconsistency will limit his price. However, this is great news for Portland. If Wright is able to stay healthy and build on his performance from last season, then he could turn out to be a great value for the money, really helping Portland’s frontcourt. His rebounding would help replace what they lose from Hickson, and his shot-blocking ability would fit nicely alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.
Potential Contract: 3 years, $9 million total
Randy Foye – H: 6’4″ W: 214 lbs Pos: PG/SG
Foye would bring a scoring punch off the bench in Portland and would take some pressure off of Damian Lillard, who became increasingly trapped on the pick and roll in the second half of last year. Portland ranked just 20th in three-point shooting in the 2012-13 season. This issue obviously needs to be addressed, and the addition of Foye (41% from three) would certainly help this. The other good news for Portland is Foye will most likely come cheaply as he is coming off of a relatively average season in Utah. Foye’s versatility to play both backcourt positions and ability to stretch the floor would massively benefit Portland’s struggling bench.
Potential Contract: 2 years, $5 million total
Al-Farouq Aminu – H: 6’10″ W: 216 lbs Pos: SF/PF
One of Aminu’s biggest knocks is his tweener status; however, with Portland this could actually be a good thing as he can fill needs at both positions. Aminu has all the tools to be a very good NBA defender with good size and mobility for the SF position and a huge wingspan of 7’3”. Aminu is still young (22 years old) and has potential to get better, so perhaps a change of scenery could really help Aminu reach his defensive potential. This move would also help Portland improve their rebounding; Aminu pulled down an impressive 7.7 RPG in just 27 MPG this year.
Potential Contract: 3 years, $12 million total
Overall, these signings at the prices above would bring Portland’s salary cap to almost exactly meeting the expected $58.5 million salary cap. These moves would give Portland depth at pretty much every position on the court with Wright, Foye and Aminu all being versatile players. Add this with maybe Cody Zeller, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or CJ McCollum at number 10 and a serviceable role player such as Mike Muscala or Ricky Ledo (if they last that long) with one of their second round picks, and Portland’s franchise outlook is looking pretty good. Assuming Portland made all the moves I suggested above, then their fifteen man roster would be similar to the table below (as you can see, this would be a much healthier and more well-rounded roster).
Portland Trail Blazers Predicted Depth Chart – 2013-14
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Damian Lillard||Wesley Matthews||Nicolas Batum||LaMarcus Aldridge||Brandan Wright|
|Eric Maynor||Randy Foye||Al-Farouq Aminu||Cody Zeller||Meyers Leonard|
|Will Barton||Victor Clavor||Joel Freeland||Mike Muscala|
By James Plowright