May 01

Buchanan On Courtside: Free Agency Flexibility And Draft Picks For Sale

By caseyholdahl

Acting general manager Chad Buchanan joined Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Brian Wheeler on the April 30 edition of Trail Blazers Courtside. During the almost 45 minute long interview, Buchanan discussed a litany of topics including the performances of JJ Hickson and Kaleb Canales, the logic behind the team decided to let Nicolas Batum go into restricted free agency, the importance of finding a long term solution at point guard, his status in the general manager search and the upcoming draft.

You can watch the video above, or read the transcript below. The questions are very, very loosely paraphrased, while Buchanan's answers are as close to verbatim as you can get in a 45 minute television interview.

BUCHANAN: The end of the season is always too abrupt, whether you're in the playoffs or how things ended this year. Just driving down here tonight, it feels weird coming out here when there aren't any more games. It's kind of bittersweet watching some of these other teams play in the playoffs after you've experienced it for three straight years. Kind of does punch you in the gut a little bit. We talked about it at our season-ending team meeting last Friday and our guys don't want to be where we're at right now. We didn't want to be sitting there in our locker room on Friday afternoon cleaning out our lockers knowing where we could have gotten to. Hopefully it makes guys a little more motivated this offseason to make sure we're not in that position again next year.

JJ Hickson. I didn't know what to expect. Did he surprise you?

He did a little bit. JJ gives us a hard time. We really liked him in the draft when he was coming out of North Carolina State. We brought him in for two separate workouts. First thing he said when he got here was 'You guys could have had me a long time ago, you know?' He was a guy who had some success in Cleveland and got traded to Sacramento, for whatever reason he didn't get as much opportunity there. They had some other good players at his position and kind of fell to the wayside a little bit. I think he got here, it maybe humbled him a bit in Sacramento, provided a little spark for him and he came in and took full advantage of his opportunity with us. If we don't have him on the floor those last seven games without LaMarcus, we're in a world of hurt, trying to even be competitive.

RICE: He made us competitive, didn't he?

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

He's a guy that you can run your offense through -- we call him a terminal. You can run everything through JJ, he's good on the block.

BARRETT: Or run nothing through him.

BUCHANAN: Exactly, just let him create on his own. He's great at diving to the rim, which is something we haven't had in a couple of years here with this group. LaMarcus is more of a back-to-the-basket shooter or face up shooter, Marcus Camby was more of a high post player, Joel is kind of a weakside banger. We've never had that guy who can run out, set a good screen, physical screen, and just dive straight to the rim, which, you put shooters in both corners, you put a point guard who can make reads, and that's hard to guard. That's what Steve Nash and Amar'e were so good at in Phoenix for so long.

WHEELS: Another surprise might have been Kaleb Canales. A lot of the players said during exit interviews that they'd like to have him back.

That's a testament to Kaleb because, when you're an assistant coach, you develop those bonds and those relationships with the players because they can come to you and complain about this and complain about that and you're kind of a sounding board for them and you develop a bond. Once you slide over to that head coaching seat, it's a little different position because you kind of have to be the bad guy. For the players to still feel that way about him after Kaleb slides over to that seat. And I've seen Kaleb get on some of those guys, guys that were really buddy-buddy with him when he was an assistant, I've seen him go at them in the locker room.

And those guys, he has there respect and he listens to them, but they also listen to him and I thought he did a fabulous job considering the talent level where our team was at down the stretch, especially, you have no Gerald, no Marcus to start off with, then you lose LaMarcus and you lose Nicolas and Raymond is in and out and we sat Jamal for a few games because of some injuries. He was down in talent and he was coaching his butt until the very end. He was very disappointed how that last game ended. He was pretty disappointed in Memphis. We had some close games that I think he would have liked to see the guys rewarded for because they competed for him.

RICE: How much do you listen to players when it comes to evaluating someone like Kaleb?

BUCHANAN: That's a great question. The hardest thing for a coach to do in our league is to get every single guy to play hard for you every single night. There are so many talented players in our league, once you get that, you're going to have a chance to be competitive. Now, whats the talent level of those guys that are playing hard for you is going to determine ultimately how much success you have. If Kaleb had all of his bullets out there, maybe, for instance, if we hadn't made any trades and everybody was healthy, what could Kaleb do with a group like that? We'll never know, but hearing the players go to bat for him says a lot for how they feel about him. Evaluating him as an assistant versus a head coach is a different animal for those players, but to a "T", all those guys are behind him 100 percent and I'm sure that will factor into, when the decision is made on who the next head coach will be, that will definitely be something that will factors in. It definitely works in Kaleb's favor.

BARRETT: Can you clarify the team's cap situation and how it impacts free agency?

BUCHANAN: We're sitting there at the trade deadline and our team was playing very poorly at the time. It was a brutal trip for us. As we look long term at this team, we kind of put it together with kind of a short term, one year run at trying to make a playoff push. Ultimately that didn't happen.

BARRETT: Did that change when Brandon retired abruptly?

BUCHANAN: A little bit. We wanted to try to put together a piece or two, which ended up being Jamal, where we felt like we can plug him in, remain competitive, hopefully make the playoffs. Once you get into the playoffs, obviously we didn't feel like we were going to make a deep playoff run, by any means. We felt like this team could potentially get us to the playoffs. As we saw how things were playing out, we kind of  made the decision, okay, we need to kind of reshuffle a little bit here. We could take one step back from this team. Let's look into this summer, which we had already kind of planned to try and have some room for this summer because we knew we were going to have to, potential, re-sign Nic. We wanted to have some cap room because there were some free agents we had targeted last year that we felt would be good fits long term. And we were able to, at the trade deadline, like you mentioned, we didn't take on any money moving forward because that was important for us to maintain our room this summer.

Gerald Wallace had a player option for next year, which, whether he opts in or opts out, he still has that decision to make. But the potential of his $9.5 million being on our books was going to eat a significant chunk of our cap room, and that factored in as well. We're sitting there with Gerald, we're sitting there with Nic, both at the same position. Ideally, both those guys at probably the numbers they're going to be at just didn't make sense for us from a books standpoint. So we were able to get off of Gerald's money, that was part of taking the one step back, giving up a talented player, but you're assuring yourself an extra $9.5 million in room this summer.

Marcus Camby was a guy we likely weren't going to bring back, weren't going to re-sign. You can walk away with Marcus riding out the season or you can walk away trying to get an asset for him. We were able to get an asset. We took a look at Jonny, we took a look at Hasheem, we got the second round pick from Houston, which was actually Minnesota's pick, which is pick 40. So we've got pick 40, then we also created a trade exception in that trade that allowed us to pick up JJ Hickson off waivers. So we traded away a player we likely weren't going to bring back in Marcus and were able to get three young players, a look at them, at a draft pick out of it. So we felt like that was a good move on our end to do that.

And then this summer, we're sitting here with the potential to be major room in the free agent market. Not only do you have the room to go sign free agents, but the room you have under the cap to make a trade on draft night potential or right after the draft, where maybe there's a team trying to get off of some money, they have a talented player who maybe long term money, it doesn't fit with what they're trying to do. Maybe they're going in a different direction and they're looking to, they say, 'dump' a player. Teams that are under the cap, they're the dumpers, they're the dump receivers and that could potentially be us. That happens periodically.

So we have the potential to do that. We also have the potential to sign some free agents. On top of that, with Nic being a restricted free agent this summer if we tender him his qualifying offer by June 30, we have the right to match him on any offer that comes in from another team. And how that will work is July 1 is the start of free agency moratorium where you can go out and talk to free agents, you can recruit them, bring them into your market, do whatever you want to do to try and recruit them to come to your team. You can talk contracts with the agents, you can talk years. You can come to an oral agreement, you can't come to a final agreement until July 11. But starting on July 11, a restricted free agent can, like Nicolas, if he gets an offer from another team, can bring that offer to you. Then we have three days to make a decision on whether to match that offer or not.

Now in the meantime, during that three-day window, we can go spend all of our cap room.

Three days is shorter than it used to be. That could be a factor.

BUCHANAN: It does because, hopefully during that July 1 to July 10 period you can get a firm grasp on where you're going with your free agent group. Who's agreed to come? You're down to maybe two teams or where you're at from that regard.

RICE: So you're looking to close a free agent deal before matching an offer for Nicolas?

BUCHANAN: Exactly, because you can spend all, let's say we have $15 million in cap room, you can spend all of that cap room, then go over the cap, not into the tax but over the cap, to re-sign Nicolas because you have Bird rights on Nicolas, so you can go over the cap to re-sign Nicolas.

Let's say we were to extend Nicolas early, back in January. Whatever we would have signed him at would have eaten up into our cap room. Let's say, hypothetically, you have $15 million in room, say you sing him for $10 million. So you have $5 million in cap room this summer to spend. Because we didn't get a deal done with him, he has what is called a cap hold, which is $5.4 million in room that is getting eat up on your books. So now you have this amount of room to spend on free agents and you can go over, on top of that, and re-sign Nic because you have his Bird rights.

BARRETT: The team has said they're going to match any offer for Nic. Nic has said he expects the team to match. Does that keep other teams from making offers because they don't want to have their free-agent money tied up?

BUCHANAN: It is a risk. On our end, we went through that with Paul Millsap a couple of years ago where your money, there's only so many free agents out there and you whittle down to the ones that you really want and target. If you're going to commit to a guy who's a restricted guy, you're tying up your money, like you said, it used to be seven, now it's three days. In that three-day window other guys may be coming off the block and now you're left, after the third day, if the team does match, now you're like, now let's go back, who's still in the pool? Now that guy is picked off that maybe you liked. it's a risk on their end. It was a risk on our end to kind of let him go to restricted, but we felt like the opportunity to add free agent or free agents on top of keeping Nic.

RICE: What about point guard?

BUCHANAN: Ideally, I think that's our No. 1 thing we have to address this offseason is finding a long term starting point guard. This free agent group is fairly strong, there might be some trade opportunities out there, but that's No. 1 for us with this team, trying to find a long term starting solution at point guard. Being able to find that and retain Nic was appealing to us. We might be able to find a starting point guard and a starting center and then match on an offer from Nic or just extend Nic ourselves with our own offer. We felt like that was more important to us than getting Nic done then maybe having the room to sign one, a center for a point guard. We wanted to kind of have our cake and eat it to, I guess you could say.

In your opinion, was there any one moment, one factor that lead to the team's downfall this season?

I think it was losing a lot of the close games. I think that really wore on our players confidence. We were a different team at home than we were on the road, then we started losing close games. I think that kind of snowballed for our coaches and for our players. They kind of lost a little bit of their mojo that they had early on in the season. Once you go, if you lose your first three games, let's say you're 0-3 in a couple close games. You're like, okay, this is going to even out. Well now you're 0-4, now you're 0-7, now you're 1-9. Now just mentally, you get into those close game situations and you have in your mind, okay, we're 1-9 in these games. Now guys kind of tighten up. We just couldn't get over the hump in those close games. We just didn't have … obviously not having Brandon, you've got that guy to kind of make up for a lot of things at the end of the game. Just a shot-maker, closer. We just didn't have that this year.  I think that just kind of snowballed for us. Once a team kind of loses its mojo in this league, you get buried quickly.

BARRETT: What is it like for you filling the role of general manager while knowing the team is looking at other candidates?

Obviously it's part of the nature of the business that nothing is guaranteed in the NBA or any professional sport in the position that we're in. For me, I've enjoyed my time here. I know there are other quality candidates out there that have been around the league longer than I have, have accomplished a lot more than I have. Obviously the season we had this year probably didn't help my case too much, but I feel like our group has done some good things in setting ourselves up moving forward. We're not trapped in a corner with this roster, so I feel we're in the position to make changes, the changes that need to be made.

From my regard, I enjoy the people here. Whatever role I'm asked to be in, I'm going to do it the best I can. Whether it's the GM role or the director of scouting role or whatever that might be, I'm not one who has kind of pursued things. I've always had the approach of whatever is in front of me, I'm going to do the best job I can, I'm going to put my heart and soul into all of it and whatever opportunities open because of that, I'll deal with that when it's in front of me. If I look to far ahead on things … some of it's out of my control.

BARRETT: Have people tried to get you to be more of a self-promoter? Sometimes it takes a bit of that.

BUCHANAN: There's definitely people in this business that go that route. That's not who I am and I don't' want to change who I am because I feel like I've gotten to where I'm at because of who I am. When we hired Kaleb to be the head coach, we talked to him about just be you. You're in this position now because of who you are. Don't try to change into something different now that you're in this position of head coach.

Is there pressure on you? Do you think they're going to use all the business of the summer to evaluate you further?

BUCHANAN: Personally, I hope they do because I feel like we're ready for this summer. We've done a lot of work on this draft, we're in position to potentially have two lottery picks, even if we just have one, that's a chance to add a pretty quality player to your team. And we're in good position with free agency. We've identified our targets. We feel like it fits into our roster moving forward. We've got a plan laid out and we want to execute it and if we get the chance to do it, great, because we're ready to. I've got a great staff with Mike Born, Bill Branch, Joe Cronin, Steve Rosenberry, Sean Kiely and Ben Faulk, we've got a great group that has worked together for quite a while now. We're excited to go through this summer. We feel like this is a chance to improve our team in a significant way and we want an opportunity to do it. I hope we have the opportunity to do that. If not, we'll fill in whatever role they want us to fill in.

WHEELS: What about the perception that Portland's isn't a desired destination for free agents?

BUCHANAN: I think the perception that Portland's not a free agent destination is somewhat true, from the outsiders point of view. I think if you were to ask players around the league that have been here or have played against us, you come into this building, at the core of all the players in this league, they love the game of basketball. Obviously they get highly compensated to do it and that's a big part of any decision they make but these guys play basketball for a living because they love the game. And when you walk into this building on game night, whether you're playing in a Blazers uniform or for another team, you feel the energy in here. You feel the passion of this fanbase and this city and this organization and it just kind of recharges you. We're attractive to players because of that factor. Obviously there are things we can't control, our market size, the rain, things like that. But ultimately, most guys, the majority of guys, their decision is going to come down to the basketball opportunity. Do I fit with this team? Do they have a need for me? Am I going to have an opportunity to play? Am I going to have an opportunity to grow? And then they're going to look at the financial aspect. They're going to weigh Portland and another team, or another couple teams, and say where's the money balance out? Where's the basketball situation balance out. Then probably the third thing on the list is, could I see myself living in Portland? But those first two things, in 90 percent of the cases, are the most important factor for free agents.

There's also a perception that the Trail Blazers will have to overpay to get free agents. If that a truism?

Not really. I think there's a few players that it definitely will factor in. I think there's a perception that the Blazers are going to just spend money all the time. We're getting away from that. We're trying to be fiscally responsible at the same time as trying to put a good product on the floor. The extra money, sometime for certain players, might sway you, but if the money is comparable, it's usually going to come down to the basketball that sways. Jamal Crawford is a great example. Granted, he's from the northwest, but he chose to come here. He took less money to come play for us because of the basketball opportunity. The fans recruiting him and he's been through here playing at the Rose Garden. So I think the basketball is what is at the core of all the guys in this league and they know the basketball situation in Portland is just outstanding and that can sometimes get you over the hump when you have hurdles from your market size.

RICE: Do you look at what other teams can afford when decided on offers to free agents?

BUCHANAN: Some of it will depend on what they do in the draft. If a team with cap room takes a player in a trade or if a team acquires another pick, it can effect a certain amount of cap room a team has. There's going to be a significant amount of teams that do have cap room this summer. We're not the only team out there, but another team that may not have cap room may use the amnesty clause on a player and create some cap room. There's obviously some new rules now with the new CBA that can allow teams to kind of be creative in that regard. There's going to be some competition for those top free agents, no doubt about it. Part of it is, let's say you're looking at a point guard, he's going to look at your basketball situation because if you're sitting there with cap room and you've got an all-star point guard on your roster, that's probably going to eliminate that option for him. That should be good for us.

We more look at, okay, he's the holes we've got to fill. Who are the teams with cap room that have similar holes as us, and that's where you figure out probably where your competition is going to be. We're very well aware of who those teams are going to be and who we've going to be battling with for some of these free agents.

BARRETT: Are you confident with your free agent targets and if we fit into their plans?

I'd say it's still early, but I think people who are free agents at the positions we have needs for, their agents and the player recognize that. I would probably leave it at that. We haven't had any talks in specifics about any players because we can't do that yet until July 1. Agents will express to you, 'Hey we've identified you as a potential spot for so and so.' And it's like, let's talk on July 1. You see our roster. You have daily conversations with these agents and they know your roster just as well as we do and they're looking for the best situation for their client.

If they know they're being handed the keys, that's not something they get in many markets. I've got to think that's a huge selling point.

Absolutely. We have an all-star at power forward who is right in the prime of his career, that's appealing to some of these players I'm sure. We've got some other young players and they see we're kind of like, we're looking for our next path of direction and they're going to see, 'Okay, this is really my opportunity to really make an imprint on my career and on a team I can help take to the next level. They're committed to it, their owner is committed to it. They've got some talent on that team.' They kind of see 'Okay, I fit in with that player or I know this player. I've talked to Wesley Matthews about the situation there.' So players talk to each other all the time.

BARRETT: And it's right now. It's not something being promised in the future.

BUCHANAN: It's almost back to the college recruiting. You're trying to sell. You know who the competition is and you're trying to say 'Well, here's what we can offer, here's what they're offering you and here's how you fit with us.' Ultimately it comes down to the player is going to have a decision to make because he's going to have a couple of choices to choose from.

RICE: This is a strong draft. How much will that play into free agency and trades?

BUCHANAN: I think in an ideal world, the point guard position, the center position, we want to address with an established player, preferably through free agency or a trade. In the drat, we're going to take the best player available. if we're picking at pick 11, we're going to take the best player available. If it happens to be a position of need, great. But when you're picking that high, you want to take the best talent. If we happen to have another pick as well, if it's pick six or pick seven or whatever that other pick could be, same philosophy. If we could add two talented players, whatever position they might be, then go address our holes with established players, that would be the best scenario for us.

WHEELS: Does not having vacancies at both general manager and head coach hinder your ability to sign free agents?

I think the coaching position is more relevant to the players because they want to know what style of play am I going to be stepping into, does my game fit with that coach and his philosophy? The general manager position, we're kind of the ones who are expressing the interest, but whether I'm here or somebody else is here that's not going to factor into their decision as much as the head coaching position might be.

They're also going to look at the players on the roster and that can kind of dictate how a team is probably going to play as well. If we're sitting there with LaMarcus and Nicolas and Elliot and these kind of young, athletic players, they're probably going to be like 'Okay, that team is probably going to be an up and down team a little bit.' So they're going to try to figure out, where do I fit in from a basketball standpoint, and the head coach is a big part of that. There's no way around that.

BARRETT: What have your dealings been with Paul Allen?

BUCHANAN: Very similar. We were just corresponding today about the draft.

BARRETT: So you talk to him every day?

I would say there's correspondence on close to a daily basis. It depends on the time of year. He's just been finishing up the NFL draft with the Seahawks, so he was kind of in NFL draft mode for a while there. Now he's starting to shift. The basketball, the NBA draft is right down the road for him. He really likes the draft. He does challenge you, and we enjoy that because he wants to feel your conviction. If you believe in something, he wants to feel that from you. If you believe that this player or this draft choice is the right player, he's going to grill you on it. He can sense …if you're 90 percent sure he's the guy you want or you're 100 percent sure, he's going to pick up on it. That's good by us because it makes you prepare to go to bat for a guy. You've got to make sure you're on board with that player. He loves evaluating players and discussing players and it's fun for us. It's amazing, in the draft room he can sit in there and we'll have a video going of a player. We'll be discussing the player and he'll be on his computer, he can multitask, he can be a part of the conversation, he can be emailing, he can be watching video. It's just amazing how his mind works and how sharp he is.

BARRETT: You haven't noticed any less passion now than in the past?

Absolutely not. The fact that he wasn't at as many games this year, there was still a ton of correspondence every night, every game night. And he's very much invested in this team still.

WHEELS: Do you get the sense of what the process would be for you to interview for the general manager position? Is there a cutoff date that, if there is no general manager by this date, that you're in that position?

BUCHANAN: Up until this point we've been trying to get through the season. Larry has been very supportive of our staff through this whole year. I know he's out talking to candidates. I've been focused on the season so much, helping Kaleb, helping our team, our staff and getting prepared for the draft. It hasn't really been at the top of my to-do list, to be honest with you. Once you kind of get through the season, done with exit interviews, I'm sure at some point I'll have a discussion with Larry, you know, where are things at for me. I didn't want to go to him during the season because I want to make sure he feel we have this under control, we're running the ship, everything is taken care of. I don't want him to feel like we're looking over our shoulder all year, because we weren't. We were focused in on this season and what comes after it will come after it, and that's kind of our of our control. Whatever happens from here, I'll be prepared for it.

Updates on guys in Europe? Any chance Joel Freeland comes over?

BUCHANAN: Potentially, yes. We're in the process of trying to find a deal that makes sense for both sides on Joel.

If Blazers got the fourth pick, then you would not trade that draft pick?

BUCHANAN: Our draft picks are going to be available. If there's a chance to get an established, proven player using a pick, we will definitely go that route.


  1. Thank you for the transcript, I am hard of hearing and miss out on lots of the videos;
    Chad gives me hope for the future; my mind goes off the charts on trying to figure out which PG and C we are targeting; I know D Williams is the #1 free agent, but there most be others we are looking at as Lowry or Dragic.

    It would be great to get our needs from free agency and still get two quality players in the draft. but if it cost us our draft pick then so be it.

    I hope Chad and Kaleb stays on at the position they are at.
    One thing more, I am not trying to get you to comment on Quick's article from LaMarcus, but in lieu of being a leader or the coach, I would hope that managements will commit to the leader, firing the coach and let the alleged bad guys play seems like they support the bad apples. I know that isn't true, but many take it that way.

    Thanks again

    by Hg on 5/1/2012 10:33 AM
  2. This is one of the best episodes of Courtside that I've ever seen. As an information junkie trying to figure out the Trail Blazers positioning and the ins and outs of how chips could be played this summer this was EXACTLY what I needed from Chad. Very forthcoming and great at explaining the process of free agency. Especially with Nico's situation.

    by sarahhecht on 5/1/2012 12:35 PM
  3. Thank you SO much Casey for the transcribing all this! I kinda of loathe listening to Courtside, but I read very fast, so this was PERFECT :) Love getting Chad's perspective on the situation. It was especially helpful to learn what the Blazers' mindset was when they did NOT extend Nicolas earlier this season. Far more understandable, at least for me. Great job, again, thank you!!

    by SisillaRiann on 5/1/2012 9:15 PM
  4. I agree that this edition of courtside was the best and most informative interview I've ever seen concerning this season. I now understand exactly why Camby was traded for what many thought was not much and why Gerald could not stay with Nic not yet signed. Chad is a very clear communicator. After hearing several interviews with him I think he's my #1 candidate for GM. I'm a sucker for humble intelligence. Chad landed on his feet as did Kaleb. Brian Wheeler, Mike Barrett and Chad answered a lot of questions for me and I think Rice is a wealth of information that has sometimes a hard time expressing itself. I was interested to see the Andre Miller was on the list of 5 free agent point guards. Noticed Goran Dragic was at the #1 spot and Nash or Williams were not listed. I'd like to see someone on a Blazer site post some footage of Joel Freeland playing overseas. All this talk about the guy and I have no idea what he brings to the table.

    by riverman on 5/2/2012 8:54 AM
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