It's another off-day and therefore time for another edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag. I have a backlog of questions I'm trying to get to, but a super-relevant one might well cut to the front of the line. If you want to take your chances, go ahead and submit it to: email@example.com Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line to make sorting easy.
Last week's edition of the Mailbag talked about cap space (among other things). This week we're addressing a single question related to that topic.
Whenever Portland's future gets mentioned the most relevant talk centers around the coming summer. The big question is what the Blazers will be able to do as far as free agents and trades. Give us a sneak peek. What moves will we see? Who's in and who's out?
Several people have asked versions of this question. There are too many variables to make a definitive prediction but we can lay down some likely assumptions and proceed from there.
1. Let's assume there's no significant trade-deadline move for the Blazers. It's unlikely that a suitable player will come up at a suitable price before February. The Blazers don't have much to trade in return without busting up their core, which we'll also assume they're not interested in doing at this point. Also any player they take on now will negatively impact their available cap space over the summer.
2. Let's also assume that the Blazers decide to part ways with J.J. Hickson and their expiring-contract youngsters when the season ends. This is not a knock on Hickson in the least. He's played admirably and helped the Blazers to several wins this season. It's just a case of right player, right situation, wrong time and wrong salary. If they were adding Hickson to a deep team already over the cap it'd be a no-brainer. Instead they'd essentially be committing to him as their long-term starting center and main off-season signing. I don't think they're comfortable with that. It wouldn't surprise me if J.J. returned someday, as players who exceed expectations and give emotional lifts often seem to boomerang to this club. But the Blazers won't forfeit cap space or the chance to find a true center to keep Hickson on the books.
If these assumptions are true then, as Storyteller pointed out for us last time, The Blazers are probably looking at approximately $13.5 million in free cap space plus $2.65 million to offer separately and a low lottery pick plus the ability to sign as many minimum-salary contracts as needed to fill out the roster.
Some more assumptions about what the Blazers will look for.
1. Raw talent. If they can find a superstar at any position save power forward or point guard--or even if they can convert one of their prospective ones or fours to off-guard or center--they have to go for it. BUT...those opportunities are so rare that we're going to assume for these purposes that it won't happen. No Dwight Howard. No magical pick-up of Al Horford for next to nothing. If something like that is coming we don't need to have this discussion anyway. Mission accomplished.
2. A starting center...the most desperate need if Hickson is gone (or, some would argue, even if he remains).
3. A wing who can get his own shot off the dribble. This could be a starting shooting guard sending Wesley Matthews to a 6th-man role or could be the 6th man himself.
4. A reserve point guard more dependable/talented/etc. than Ronnie Price.
5. More true three-point shooting would be nice in this system.
6. More scoring off the bench is a must.
7. Overall depth is another must. The Blazers need to go at least 8 deep with experienced, reliable, and fairly talented players. Unless they nab that one, shining superstar Portland has to find a mix of the above qualities in 2-3 players who will cover significant minutes at varying positions.
You may make other assumptions...in fact it's a good starting topic for the comment section. If your assumptions are radically different than these then obviously your mileage will vary with the players named below. But we're on pretty solid ground with these needs, as the current season has demonstrated.
Given these starting points, here are the type of players you might expect the Blazers to look at in each of the categories:
This is by far the trickiest position. Starting centers will be available but they're expensive. It'd be awfully easy to blow nearly all your cap space on a guy who's good but not great. Bona fide stars are either too expensive and likely out of Portland's league (e.g. Howard) or untouchable (e.g. Horford, Brook Lopez, and for what Portland could offer, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe). You might be able to swing a deal for, say, Emeka Okafor. He'd fit Portland's needs in terms of defense and rebounding but he'd be an odd fit in the offense. He's also making $14.5 million next year, so say goodbye to that cap room. Does Okafor fulfill every need the Blazers have? Is he that kind of transcendent superstar who will lift the entire team on his own? No and no.
This is the quandary. You can't get the perfect guy here. You can get a guy who might fill 75% of your needs at his own position but it'll likely cost you 100% of your cap space and leave you wanting at all the other spots that need help. It makes some sense, then, to go for a lesser player who might fill 50-60% of your needs on a short-term basis, cost you only a portion of your available room, create a cap slot, and in later years use that slot to facilitate trades above the cap. It would also make sense to take a chance on a younger player or a really cheap older guy who will bolster your lineup for a year or two.
Chris Kaman is a true center. He's a stop-gap measure for sure. It's been years since he's been good and years since he's been truly healthy. His rebounding is average, offense maybe a small step below, defense average. But the dude's only making $8 million this year and has no reason to expect a raise. Indeed, he might sign for less. He's not good for long minutes, though, so you'd have to get another guy and/or depend heavily on Meyers Leonard.
Samuel Delambert is also an injured, limited-minute center. But he's better statistically than Kaman, though not as varied offensively. He's a really good rebounder and shot-blocker, qualities the Blazers could use. He's making only $6.7 million this year. Like Kaman, his contract expires and his current team is unlikely to want him back. Again you'd need more help than this but it's a relatively cheap short-term solution.
Outside of defensive rebounding Tiago Splitter would be a fantastic get for the Blazers but he'll get more expensive as San Antonio will want to retain his services. He probably won't reach the market for that reason. He's also more of a power forward than a true center. But if he does come up for bid, he might be worth a hefty offer from Portland's point of view.
He might be a little shorter than you want but Marreese Speights could be a solid option out of Cleveland. He'd be opting out of a $4.5 million deal and one would assume that the Cavs would make a run at him, but you should be able to get him for less than the $8.3 they're paying Anderson Varejao.
If you want cheap and you want promising statistics you go for Timofey Mozgov. He's 7'1", 250 lbs, and is the third-string center in Denver right now. He'd be the one guy on this list the Blazers would probably consider trading for before the deadline, as he makes a paltry $3.5 million this year. He's only 26 and he's never averaged more than 15 minutes per game. The promise of a serious shot at the starting position might be enough to woo and/or keep him since he's not in line for a significant raise. Circle this name. He's a no-risk proposition if the Nuggets are willing to swap bench players.
Houston's Cole Aldrich may also come available. He's not been great for the Rockets after a promising 2011-12 in Oklahoma City. The Rockets won't let him go for nothing so you're looking at a trade here, but with Omer Asik doing so well, they might be willing to listen. Who or what the Blazers would offer...I'm not sure. It depends on what the Rockets value. But Aldrich is 6'11", could be a rebounder, could be a shot-blocker, and could have a little bit of an offensive game. That's several "coulds", but hey...Portland needs center help.
You know that "little extra help" the Blazers would need with many of these signings? Look south to Phoenix and Jermaine O'Neal. He's old but he's got enough in the tank to play a few key minutes per game for you. He's on a minimum contract now. The Blazers could easily sign him to another one of those after all their other deals are done or, if he wanted more, look at using some or all of that $2.6 million "room" exception. If the Blazers can convince him to complete the circle of life by coming home, almost any center above plus O'Neal plus Leonard would make a fairly decent rotation compared to what they have now.
People will scream about the omission of Nikola Pekovic here. That's justified in that he'd be a better shot for a long-term starting center than anybody mentioned above. But he's going to be plenty expensive and may well end up in no-man's land for the Blazers, not good enough to justify the cap bite.
Folks will also mention Robin Lopez but chances are the Hornets will pay enough to keep him.
Extra Help Three-Point Shooting
Compared to filling a center rotation this is going to be a cakewalk. A shooter would undoubtedly fill one of Portland's gaping bench holes as well, so you're looking for experience in addition to accuracy. It'd be nice to combine this with off-the-dribble scoring ability as well but now you're starting to price yourself out of your budget. We're not going to look for defense much either, assuming that Portland's regular wing rotation remains intact and has that end covered. Otherwise you're not looking for a bench player but another all-around great starter.
The gold standard here would be Orlando's J.J. Redick. He shoots great, has no trouble filling minutes, can pass...what he could do in this offense would be scary. He's been a reserve his whole career and would be willing to remain in that role. Unfortunately he's already making $6.2 million and he's having a great year. You can probably add $3 million minimum to that price. That's taking up too much of Portland's budget and frankly is too expensive for a reserve at this stage of the team's development. But if he can be had cheaper...
Head back to Cleveland and you'll find Daniel Gibson and Wayne Ellington. Both are in their mid-20's. Ellington is slightly undersized for a shooting guard. Gibson is really undersized to the point that Cleveland has occasionally tried to play him at the point with poor results. Ellington is a so-so defender and Gibson is just bad. But both can shoot the three. Ellington has been on fire since he entered the league. Gibson's star has fallen but a change of scenery could bring him back to life. Ellington is making $2 million this year and might be looking for slightly more. Gibson is at $4.8 million and might have to accept significantly less. Neither of these guys will revolutionize your team but if you're looking to fill a bench spot cheaply they could have merit.
If you're looking for more experience and even better shooting, Kyle Korver is also a free agent this summer. He's 31, he's a sick, SICK three-point marksman, and he's making $5 million. The Hawks might not be interested in signing anybody that age considering they're likely headed into a full-on rebuild. You can't get Korver for the same price you'd get Gibson or Ellington but he could be had if you don't spend too much elsewhere.
Or maybe you prefer to pillage Anthony Morrow from the Hawks. He's a jump shooter who's not afraid to hoist but trying to provide scoring off the bench is the only thing he'll do for you. That said, he used to do it quite well and he's only 27.
It's hard to believe Mike Dunleavy Jr. is 32 years old. Where does the time fly? To the Blazers, though, that's experience. Not only does Dunleavy shoot well from distance, he's become a pretty decent all-around player (excepting defense, but he's not totally incompetent there either). He's only pulling $3.75 million in Milwaukee, another potential bargain bench filler.
Or if you want to go minimum-contract level bargain, you might take a look at Roger Mason Jr. in New Orleans. He's a horrible defender, basically a shooter at this point in his career. But like Dunleavy he's 32 and he's one of those guys you could sign after all other acquisitions are completed regardless of the cap limit. In the same general category is Chicago's Marco Belinelli, who's game has slumped in recent years but who should fit with Portland's style for a minimal price in a mid-to-low rotation role.
Prefer a little less pure shooting, a little more athleticism, and have a tolerance for injury recovery? I didn't think so. But if you do you might want to consider trying to steal away Chase Budinger from the Timberwolves. You probably won't have to pay him much.
The list wouldn't be complete without mentioning Washington's Martell Webster. I wouldn't do it, but hey.
Wing Starter or High Rotation Player Scoring off the Dribble
To be frank, you're probably going to have to trade for this kind of guy. Many of the guys coming available who could fill this role are going to be out of Portland's price range, as guys who demonstrate these skills tend to become big names. Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings...too famous, too expensive, too many problems. Nick Young in Philadelphia can get his own shot but he's really hard to trust and his current $5.6 million is too much relative to money available and what he'd give you.
Bringing back Jarrett Jack would be an intriguing possibility. He can do much of what the Blazers need off the bench. His skills were unnecessary when Brandon Roy roamed the court but times have changed. The problem here is cost-reward again. He's had two good seasons in a row and is flourishing in Golden State. He makes $5.4 million now and one would guess he's in for a raise. Can you spend more than half your cap on Jack? If you're only trying to sign 1-2 players and using the rest of the room to facilitate a trade, maybe so.
If you're talking ex-Blazers, Jerryd Bayless also has an early termination option on his contract. He's not having the success Jack is. In fact his offensive game has gone to heck. But he's making just over $3 million, he'd get more opportunity in Portland than he is in Memphis, and Blazers fans remember some of the things he can do.
Outside of that you're making deals with the devil, hoping that J.R Smith opts out of his contract or looking sideways at Brooklyn's Andre Blatche. You could promise either one instant 6th Man of the Year contention but dang...attitude, chemistry, no guarantee of production. These are guys you might risk as the last piece of the puzzle but you probably don't want them as part of your foundation, especially since you'd be paying them more than you'd pay Jack.
The Blazers would probably do just as well trading for a cheap, veteran scorer in the short term, projecting that Will Barton will fill this role, and/or using their upcoming lottery pick (if present) to try and fill this need.
Reserve Point Guard
Some nice point guard names are coming up on expiring contracts and/or getting traded. Most of those names would be too expensive. Beno Udrih does well but makes $7.3 million per year. Jose Calderon is even more expensive at $10 million per and is now trying to bump the $8.5 million Rodney Stuckey out of a spot in Detroit. Will Damian Lillard projected to helm this team for the next ten years, it's impossible to see Portland spending this kind of money on his backup no matter how bad their depth issues are. (Unless, of course, they saw a guy like Stuckey as their mega-third-guard of the future. That would probably mean they hadn't seen him play this year in Detroit though.)
A couple of more affordable options present themselves. Jarrett Jack could pull double-duty in the backcourt and this might make his contract more palatable. D.J. Augustin is slumping in Indiana, is nobody's idea of a defender, and hasn't made anybody look twice since his rookie season. But he has 5 years under his belt, can run a team, used to be able to shoot, and should come cheap as he's only making $3.5 million this year and not earning it.
Jeff Teague is only doing so-so in Atlanta. (Can you see why they're probably going to flush everything but Horford and start over after this season?) He turns over the ball too much and doesn't score enough to be your starting point guard. But he does several things well and might be a good get behind Lillard...certainly adding to the overall talent level off the bench. He's pulling in $2.4 million per year this season. If the Blazers can get him at anywhere near that level they have to look at that deal.
Are any of the guys on this list, from centers to point guards, a dream signing? Not even close. But a dream signing might be beyond the Blazers right now. Even with the cap space they're still in no-man's land. They might decide that their current core is good enough that with experience and bolstering from signings like this they could make a splash. If so, they should be able to pull off some nifty moves this summer. Many of these guys are well within Portland's means. If they decide that the core isn't good enough to be helped by guys like these then they probably need to think about some major trades and/or starting over.
In the meantime, though, you're free to mix and match with the $13.5 million (add in another $1.5-$2 million if the Blazers don't keep their pick), the $2.6 million extra, and the minimum salary contracts. Even without homer-inspired low-balling, you can probably find a mix of 2-4 players you like in here. Give it a shot in the comment section.
P.S. Keep in mind that although the chances of a pre-February move are small, there are permutations here. As I just mentioned in the comments, if the Blazers weren't going to keep Hickson anyway they could call up Denver, offer Hickson for Mozgov