Portland must answer tough questions during the offseason: What would I do?
As many teams' playoff hopes continue to fade, it is time for organizations to outline their plans for the coming offseason. Portland is among the number of teams who must make big decisions for some reasons. Here, I list 3 major questions that the team must answer and what I wish the team would do.
The first is how to wisely decide who to re-sign after Portland's expiring contracts, and under what terms.
Expiring contracts leave especially critical holes in the Portland roster as the contracts for our 2 starters (Nicolas and Raymond) and some key reserves (J.J. Hickson, Flynn) expire. The team must wisely decide whether to offer new contracts to those players. The front office stated many times that retaining Batum is the top priority, and he will likely re-sign with Portland. The contract I expect to see is about 34M over 4 seasons or 8.5M/year. Team must not hesitate to spend big money here, as teams with big cap space like Dallas and Boston will be looking to offer big contracts to young talents.
After that, the situation becomes a bit tricky. This will be an unpopular decision, but the team must offer Raymond Felton a deal as well. Although there is a group of fan refusing to renew until Ray is gone, I hope that the team keeps him to a modest 2-year, 10M~12M contract (5.M~6M yearly). He has played better since the coaching change, and definitely possesses a starter's talent. We did witness a couple of "feltdowns", but the point guard has also shown a lot of positives. He neared a triple-double in couple of games. His shooting percentages, including the 3 point shooting, have improved. It is uncertain that Portland would be able to upgrade the point guard position during the offseason, as only players that could be an upgrade over Felton are Deron Williams and Steve Nash. Therefore keeping him to a short contract is a very safe move as long as the cap space has a room for a second superstar on our roster. Taking a risk by letting him go and then not being able to sign a new point guard will be foolish. That risk is very high, as the talent in upcoming free-agency is quite thin. If Portland does end up making a significant upgrade in PG position after the signing, then the team can trade him.
After keeping Felton, the team must let go of Hickson and Jonny Flynn. Many fans fell in love with them and will be unhappy to see them leave, but those players must move on to a new team for their benefit. In the last few games Hickson proved that he can be a starting power forward and deserves a starter's salary. Therefore, he will rightfully ask for a bigger contract once his current one expires. Jonny Flynn has played well as a backup point guard, but the team already has Nolan Smith to fill out that position. For those reasons, Portland must not make a move that will financially limit them in the free agency or signing the rookies, while not addressing the immediate needs. Free up as much cap space as you can.
Summary: I hope Portland retains Nicolas Batum and Raymond Felton, and let go of other expiring contracts.
Secondly, who should Portland target in the free agency?
As the team enters the free agency there are some players that I really want to see in a Portland uniform. This is where we will see how good our front office really is at recruiting good players and negotiating contracts. 31M in expiring contracts of Okur, Felton, Batum, Thabeet, Flynn, Oden minus 14.5M for Felton and Batum leaves us 16.5M per year to make a splash in the free agency. The number becomes 21.5M if Jamal does not take his player option, but we won’t count on uncertainties here.
As aforementioned, we have 2 big competitors in Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, as they stand ready to snag big name free agents with their enormous cap space. The most obvious hole on Portland roster after signing Nicolas and Raymond is the starting center, but before we address our needs I hope the team vigorously enters Deron Williams sweepstakes. Currently, Dallas is pictured as a front-runner in signing him, but Portland has a realistic chance in attracting him as well. If Williams signs with Dallas, in 2 seasons he will be surrounded with an aging team consisting of 35 year-old Dirk and Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood, 34. They all take up significant chunks of the salary and prevent signing younger players. LaMarcus Aldridge, who was a big part of recruiting Jamal Crawford, grew up in Dallas with Williams and said he will help the team recruit players. If Portland recruits Deron Williams with the youth of its core, the result may be fruitful.
If we fail in signing Williams, then we try to sign a free agent center. Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez are restricted free agents. They will be more than willing to listen to 12M/year contract proposal, and those players are worth the money. Two unrestricted free agent centers that stand out to me are Chris Kaman and Spencer Hawes. Though I would not offer them more than 8M per year, the team should give them serious considerations. Key here is not to be too desperate to fix our problems, as we now approach the draft and the draft day trades. Portland can also choose to offer unrestricted free agent guards Jeremy Lin or Goran Dragic a deal, but again, key here is not to be desperate and those deals should be moderate.
Summary: I hope the team recruits Derron Williams first, and then tries to sign a starting center if it fails.
Lastly, Portland must decide who to draft, or what to do with the picks.
If there is any positional need that has not yet been addressed, now is the time to solve the problem. There are three scenarios.
- Derron Williams is a Trailblazer and so is Raymond. There is a hole in the center position.
- Roy Hibbert / Brook Lopez is a Trailblazer and we have legitimate starters for all five positions
- We couldn’t sign any big name free agents… But we have Chris Kaman and some cap space!
If first is the case, sign-and-trade Raymond Felton with a lottery pick for a center. This can return us a good player like DeAndre Jordan, Marcin Gortat or Samuel Dalembert. Second case is a great scenario too, as the obvious needs are a young backup center and a backup PF. It is no secret that this is a big man's draft. Draft the likes of Jared Sullinger orTyler Zeller to complete the roster. However, I want to focus on the third scenario, as it will be the most likely case. This is the most fun part anyways, as there are many different moves that can be made with two lottery picks for a deep draft class. TWO!!
The most likely story goes like this: New Jersey’s lottery pick is projected to be around 6th. Top 3 players that will be available for that pick are Andre Drummond (C), Cody Zeller (C), and Harrison Barnes (SF). The team will likely draft one of the two centers, which is the right choice. Although Portland will receive some criticism for drafting a center again with a high pick, those two players have youth, great potentials and have played well in college. Next, Portland’s pick is projected at 10th. This pick can turn out to be anyone. SG Jeremy Lamb, PF Jared Sullinger, C Tyler Zeller, PG Damian Lillard or a Portland native PF Terrence Jones is all potential Blazers. As a fan of Jones’ game, I hope that Portland drafts him to replace JJ Hickson as a backup PF.
Portland will have about 8M of cap space left after signing Kaman. The team can use that money to sign the rookies into contracts, and fill the roster with veteran's minimums. My wishlist, which pretty much turned into a list of predictions, projects the Portland lineup to look like below. Note that this nice looking roster is our worst case scenario.
Summary: I want Portland to draft Cody Zeller / Andre Drummond and bring Terrence Jones back to PDX.
p.s. If I may add another wish, I hope that Portland Trailblazers will offer me an internship in their office. I need a job that will help me pursue my dream of sports management!