Have the Portland Trail Blazers Given Up?

Dave,

We went from talks of Steve Nash, Goran Drajic and Kyle Lowry to signing Ronnie Price and possibly starting a rookie at PG. Went from talking about landing an all-star center in Roy Hibbert to having two rookie centers in Leonard and Freeman.

Have the Blazers officially given up on this upcoming season? With the possible exception of the now overpaid Nicolas Batum, could they had done possibly any worse in free agency?

--Ramon


Yeah, it's quite a come-down when you start out talking about luring Deron Williams and end up catching Ronnie Price, isn't it? It's like, "Steelhead? Swordfish? Awwww...brook trout, and barely legal size at that."

For the official record, here's Portland's roster right now:

LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, J.J. Hickson, Jared Jeffries, Ronnie Price, Luke Babbitt, Eliot Williams, Nolan Smith, Joel Freeland, Victor Claver, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Sasha Pavlovic

Take a long, hard look at that lineup. 15 players, exactly three of which are starters at an NBA level along with one prized rookie. At least 9 of them could reasonably be classified as a 10th player or worse on a decent roster. Portland has as much depth as a Paris Hilton autobiography.

So...have they given up on the upcoming season? Depends on how you look at it. If you underline "upcoming" the Blazers are in sad shape. Their one-year window looks bad. But that doesn't mean they're in give-up mode overall. I think they'd argue, and rightfully so, that they're moving forward now. It'll be slow. They'll have to build a piece or two at a time, mainly through the draft. But if anything they've signaled that they're giving up on their past--namely the eternal Roy/Aldridge/Oden hope that they were close to contention--rather than giving up on their future.

Again, in a one-year window the distinction is academic. But if you open the window longer, they've actually divested themselves of expensive contracts and mediocre players. They're paying Aldridge and Batum legit money, Matthews half-legit money. Everybody else is cheap and potentially disposable. Most of those players are also young.

The grand plan, shrouded in mystery just a couple weeks ago, has now come into focus. They'll hold a small core of players for the future, enough to keep viable but not enough to put them near the salary cap line in the future. They'll draft high and ride out the rookie contracts of the younger stars. They've brought on all the other prospects to see if one or two might pan out. The veterans they've acquired are dirt cheap role players. When the time comes (somewhere in that rookie contract window before they have to start paying this next generation actual money) they'll hopefully have their opportunity for a big move via free agency or unbalanced trade. At that point they'll be free to jettison everybody who didn't develop and fill out the roster with free agents who actually matter...taking them from good to potentially great instead of taking them from bad to mediocre.

I hate to keep mentioning the VideoCast, but honestly, this is exactly the approach we talked about months ago, before we even had a new GM. View the rebuilding project as a 3-4 year process, not an instant fix. Rely on the draft and cap space, bide your time, then strike when the opportunity arises. This is far better than going all-in now with so few chips that a huge win still wouldn't put you in the lead.

So now, let's go back to the original concept of "giving up" vis-a-vis the free agent and trade market. The Blazers acquired no remarkable, or even mark-able, players this off-season (at least so far...and major moves from here seem unlikely). But they kept their cap unencumbered, their options for the future wide open. Spending $7 million on a mediocre player would have helped the team immediately but would have scuttled future flexibility. In that sense, bowing to immediate need would have been more "giving up" than their current course. They could have said, "Let's just forget it and bring in a couple players who will make the record look better even though we know we aren't going anywhere with them." THAT'S giving up. Their current moves smell more like admitting the reality of their situation and finding a way to build out of it.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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