OK, so enough mourning (or "whew!"-ing) over Hedo Turkoglu. There's a bunch of cap space burning a hole in Portland's pockets and a whole summer of opportunity yet awaits. "What?!?" you exclaim. "Dave, all the best free agents are going or gone! Turkoglu, Ariza, Villanueva, Gordon...why, the list is staggering!" Chill out, hombre. The only thing staggering about this summer's free agent list is the popular rush for fool's gold that it presents. You couldn't trade every free agent signed so far this year for even one of next year's prime guys. The money is, and always was, in trading this year. The motto of the summer is, "Don't shop, swap." So let's get going.
Before we start, I will freely admit that I am cribbing large portions of this plan from our good friend Storyteller, who himself connected various threads of ideas and put them together in a response to one of the Turkoglu threads. Ever since he set me on the track I've been tossing these possibilities around in my head.
And despite what I said a moment ago, our new, Hedo-free plan is going to start with a bit of shopping. It won't be our only move, let alone our biggest, but it's been mentioned as being on the Blazers' horizon so we're going to give it credit.
Click through for The Plan.
Step 1: The Blazers take their cap space and make an offer to David Lee.
Now before you nay-say this to death, let me remind you that months ago when this possibility was brought up I, myself, was one of the leading detractors for the specific reason that there's no room for Lee on this roster. In a bit of scary-music-inducing foreshadowing, let me tell you that the primary reason for this offer is that the situation is going to change.
I wouldn't like Lee much as our main power forward, especially playing alongside Greg Oden. Any Mike D'Antoni-shepherded stats are going to be skewed, but despite some (Mwah! Mwah!) wonderful raw numbers of 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 55% shooting last year Lee's contributions were somewhat anemic. His net numbers ranked below seven other regular Knick contributors (understanding that the Knicks traded for extra people during the year). He was a net negative in points. He was basically a wash in rebounding. Opposing power forwards obliterated him in PER.
Why in the name of Kevin Pritchard and all the saints do we want Lee on the team, then? Because some of those numbers were system-based. He's never going to be as effective as he could be in New York. He can be here. He's a restricted free agent. The Knicks have the right to match any deal the Blazers offer him. If the offer is remotely significant, they're probably not going to match.
We also want him on the team because we're not thinking of him as our main power forward. That job still belongs to LaMarcus Aldridge. We're looking at Lee as a back-up power forward/center. Of course he can't bang with Yao but...whoops! Forgot. We don't have to worry about that anymore. He'll have a hard time handling Shaq but...whoops! Forgot. We don't have to worry about that anymore. In actuality, Lee stacked up against opposing centers better than he did against opposing power forwards.
We're not looking for miracles here. No savior is needed. We're looking for a guy to fill between 26-30 back-up minutes at two front-court positions, provide a little post scoring, and rebound like crazy. That's David Lee. You might wish the defense would be better but you can't have everything. A guy who could play like Lee and defend like Garnett would never be a reserve for you and would never be available.
"But Dave," you pipe up again, "that's going to cost us most of our cap space, if not all of it! For David Lee? Really?" Yes, Grasshopper. Really. That space isn't going to do us much good soon anyway.
"But Dave," comes your wailing cry, "part of the reason people are not clamoring after Lee is that the Knicks, by rights, could make a competing team wait on their answer until well after the free agent market has been sucked dry! What will happen to us if they do that and then end up matching the offer? Woe is us then, Dave! Woe is us!" OK, calm down Boo Boo. We didn't suddenly get dumber than the average bear here. The a priori assumption to that argument is that there are other free agents Portland wants besides (or after) Lee. I'm willing to say right now that I can't think of any. If the Knicks work us over, so be it. Then we move into Step 2 of the plan with a bunch of cap space to facilitate trades, which is (as we said) where the real traction is anyway. And we have all summer to make trades. They're far less time-critical than free-agent signings. David Lee isn't our only target here. He's just one that we can't get any other way besides using this cap space to make an offer. So his offer comes first.
"But Dave..." Oh holy hopping hornytoads! Will you never cease?!? This is beginning to sound like a bad re-enactment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. "But Dave, I much prefer [insert name of another power forward prospect here]. Why can't we have that guy instead, Dave? Why?" Well...OK. We can consider it. If, and ONLY if, you can show me a guy who meets these criteria:
- can play some reserve center as well as power forward or at least can play alongside LaMarcus Aldridge comfortably so the two can switch back and forth
- rebounds and makes a living inside but still has a little bit of touch on his release plus does other things besides just scoring so he can play with both LaMarcus and Greg
- will be serviceable as a reserve, albeit a fairly large-minute one, for the next few years of his career at least...isn't an obvious starter in the making
- a guy whose team won't match his offer if he's restricted
My guess is somewhere along the line there we took your guy out. If not, bring him up and we can talk.
Step 2: Let the Imperial Trade Probes be sent out in search of the rebel small forward. Search the ruins of Houston but don't forget the frozen wasteland of Detroit as well. Once found, turn him to the dark side...or our side anyway.
Shane Battier is one of the most unsung, yet important, players in the league. The Rockets think the world of him. As we discussed last week, he's also far less useful to the Rockets right now than he was three months ago. With the loss of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest the Rockets go from a Conference Finals hopeful to a lottery team. If they make the playoffs next year it'll be because somebody else screwed up. Battier will be 31 when the season begins. He's still everything he always was but in Houston he's the ultimate complementary player with nobody to complement.
The first offer I'd make to Houston would probably be Joel Przybilla for Battier straight up. If that failed I'd try Przybilla and Travis Outlaw for Battier and Brent Barry. Przybilla is only a year younger than Battier but he's a center and he's got less mileage on him. With every scorer in their arsenal disappearing somebody's going to have the green light on that team. That's Travis' specialty. It wouldn't surprise me to see him add 2-3 points per game immediately, and this is on top of the Rockets already gaining 7 points and 6 rebounds in the deal. In any scenario if they want a draft pick I give them a draft pick. If they need some cash to offset Przybilla's trade kicker I do that as well.
Now granted it hurts losing Joel. We need Joel. But either Greg Oden is going to grow up or he's not. If he is then Joel's defensive/rebounding role will diminish anyway. If he's not then Przybilla won't save us. I know we might have a rocky road in the coming year but I'm hoping that Battier's defense will help lessen the need for a constant interior watchdog like Joel.
The more touchy negotiations would come if the Rockets insisted on Rudy Fernandez accompanying Przybilla. That move contains a lot more gray area for me. I'm not sure Portland can fully utilize Rudy long-term but I'm also not sure I'd move him for a shorter-term guy like Battier. You'd never be sorry having Shane on your team, but you could be sorry having Rudy on someone else's.
If Rudy is necessary to make a deal work, I don't consummate with Houston without also knocking on the door of Joe Dumars. I discuss Przybilla, Rudy, and Outlaw for Prince and Arron Affalo, whom I rely on to be a defensive, three-point shooting reserve behind Brandon Roy. If there's any way I can get them to consider Martell Webster instead of Travis I do that. If that deal has to wait until Martell is ready for full contact, so be it.
On the cheaper end of the scale these deals are pretty nice. On the more expensive end it's a matter of taste, depending on how much you value the small forward being offered. Despite the momentary pain of losing a favorite, we wouldn't be unhappy with any of those players coming in. Either Battier or Prince is a better acquisition than Turkoglu would have been. They also fit more comfortably than the players we'd be shipping out.
Step 3: Depending on what's left, you could consider swinging a deal for Kirk Hinrich.
Steve Blake hasn't gone anywhere. With a semi-revamped lineup the Blazers might be content to keep it that way. But if the Knicks matched the offer for Lee (leaving you cap space, which obviously you'd use before executing Step 2) or you didn't move Outlaw while acquiring your small forward the Hinrich option is still available. Blake and Outlaw is the only practical scenario that makes a trade work if you got Lee first. \You'd mostly pick up Kirk to shore up the defense on the other side of Brandon Roy.
Where Does This Leave Us?
The Blazers have three all-but-untouchable players in Roy, Aldridge, and Oden. They also have three young, highly valued prospects in Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, and Nicolas Batum. Through these steps we've netted Portland David Lee, either Shane Battier or Tayshaun Prince/Arron Affalo, and maybe an outside chance at Kirk Hinrich while moving either none or one of those players. The players coming in would be capable, experienced, and have targeted minutes waiting for them.
If Portland could find any kind of deal in Step 2 that doesn't involve Rudy (not likely) this becomes a near no-brainer. The outside chance of getting Lee, Battier, and Hinrich for a total cost of Przybilla, Outlaw, and Blake plus cash or picks is enough to make you salivate. Nobody has done anything close to that in free agency. Even if you start throwing Rudy's name in there, between his position gridlock and him apparently flirting with Europe, it's worth thinking about. In whole or in part, the moves listed here legitimately work.
If nothing else, this should get rid of the thought that Portland's possibilities dried up when Hedo Turkoglu decided that Toronto was more cosmopolitan than Portland. The Blazers have not yet begun to fight.