After a short (and much-needed) hiatus following the draft we're back and ready to tackle the summer free agency period. Are there going to be moves? Yes. Of what flavor? Well, that whole draft thing should have told you not to try and anticipate Kevin Pritchard...or at least not to bet too much on your guess.
However to start with we'll address the burning question of the hour: Do the Blazers need to make a big move in order to keep up with the San Antonios, Clevelands, and Orlandos of the world?
I suppose it depends what your definition of "big" is. But if your definition includes a name-brand, 30-year-old, declining star that answer is "no". Or at least "you'd better target the right one".
I was surprised at the number of comments I saw during the draft that claimed Kevin Pritchard had lost his touch or was afraid to pull the trigger on a real deal. The open question in my mind is whether the Blazers over-value youth, especially among players they, themselves, have drafted. They have to turn prospects into players. If that's not happening (or not happening quickly enough in the right positions) internally they're going to have to trade some of them away for more stable production. But the timing and content of those moves remain open to debate. We've felt ripples from that ongoing discussion, but I've seen nothing to indicate that Blazer management is timid or misguided as some have suggested. The simplest explanation is usually the best. Pritchard didn't pull the trigger on a deal because the right deal wasn't out there...at least not before or during the draft.
When you look at the three teams that did make big deals it's easy to get caught up in the headlines. Three All-Star-type players got traded for what amounted to canned parsnips and salary relief. It was a garage sale, NBA-style. There might as well have been a round, orange sticker on top of Shaq's head. But the three teams that acquired them all came at their transactions from a similar angle. Orlando and Cleveland are within sight of the summit. Cleveland has been spinning its wheels for a while and has gone through a ton of roster make-overs without gaining traction. Orlando lost this year's Finals and faced the prospect of taking a giant step backwards in losing small forward Hedo Turkoglu. San Antonio, meanwhile, has slipped over the other side of the summit and is trying to crawl their way back before they run out of time. It made sense for all of these teams to take a stab at huge-salary, semi-broken, tread-worn stars. Every team does this when they're stuck. It seldom works, but you have to try.
How, exactly, is Portland like those teams? Short answer: it isn't. Portland's best years are still ahead. The Blazers aren't stalled yet. They have a ton of time left on the clock. Shaq would likely have helped the Blazers last year for one playoff run. They wouldn't have won a title with him. They probably still wouldn't this year. Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson could help win a couple games more but their particular skills and needs don't match up seamlessly with Portland's holes. And again, how many years would they be of service? The entire benefit of a deal like this is short-term. That short-term gain for the Blazers wouldn't be enough. The long-term cost could be great, especially when other moves are in the making. The opportunity cost of losing someone who fit better now and could perform better in two years would be significant enough to nix such a deal.
If the Blazers can make a move to put themselves on the short list for a championship right now they should make that move. Unless that move is available, however, it would be the height of folly to sacrifice what you've built up in terms of talent and flexibility just to keep up with the Popoviches. If you're making moves to keep up you're already behind and you're likely to stay that way.
The truth is it doesn't matter what San Antonio does. San Antonio is not blocking our window. No matter how this Jefferson move works out they're going to be long gone before the Blazers hit their prime. If Shaq or Vince Carter matter much in the East it will be for the next couple of years at most, which means those moves don't matter much to us either.
The Blazers are all but done taxiing now. They are in line for the runway and the flight attendants are preparing for take-off. The wait is one more season. Sometime this year you're going to hear the tower clear us, you're going to feel the thrust of the engines, and you'll hear Pritchard and McMillan calling out V-1 and V-2. But we don't hit cruising altitude until 2010. Salary and balance considerations are going to force us to make moves this summer, but those moves are pointing at the new decade, not this one. Judge them, or the temporary lack thereof, accordingly.