Trade Rumors: The Blazers, The Spurs, and the Dance for Free Agents

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The first really juicy rumor of the trade season has hit: DeJuan Blair to Portland. How much sense would it make and, more importantly, what other critical factors are involved in making this, or any other, trade decision?

As you've no doubt seen, Ben has given us a taste of Chris Broussard and Portland's possible courtship of San Antonio forward DeJuan Blair. It's a pretty good serve to start the intense lead-up to trade deadline week, but let's volley back a little analysis, not just about Blair but the bigger trade/free agent philosophies in play here.

Would DeJuan Blair fit in Portland? Yes. Could the Blazers be interested in him? You bet...strongly, maybe. Portland needs more rebounding and Blair is in a prime position for acquisition. He's played for a winning, title-contending team. He's shown good numbers but is slumping enough that he's available. He'll get more of an opportunity in Portland than he's getting right now in San Antonio so he should be happy to join the Blazers.

Before you go scuttling off to the trade machine, though, realize that all of that put together isn't enough to make this--or any--deal work for the Blazers at this point. Unless you're talking Prime, Grade-A starting talent coming on board the financials of any potential move are as important as the fit.

At just over a cool million on an expiring contract, Blair doesn't hurt the cap much. But his cap hold this summer would chip away at Portland's available space to the tune of a couple million until he's re-signed. Considering his new salary probably won't be very high, why would the Blazers trade for him now instead of just waiting and trying to pick him up with the up-to-$2.6 million "room" exception this summer after their other cap space is spent? The only possible answers are that they really, really love him and they intend to spend more than $2.6 million per year on him. I'm not sure either one of those things would be advisable.

The only way this deal would make sense--and pay attention here because this could apply to many different trades--would be if the Spurs could absorb the salary of Joel Freeland in return without burdening the Blazers more beyond the current summer. Freeland will be owed $2.9 million next year. Unfortunately the Spurs don't have the necessary expiring salaries to make a Freeland-for-Blair trade work.

Why is Freeland such a key? He's the one movable part the Blazers might not be attached to. And while $2.9 million doesn't seem like much in the absolute, every dime could count in this off-season.

Consider: The Blazers almost certainly will have $13.5 million-ish to spend this summer. They might or might not have a draft pick but first-rounders are always good currency, so let's say they could add another $2 million in space by dropping the pick if they were so inclined. (Remember they might not have it anyway because it could be Charlotte's.) We're still talking $15 million in room here.

Now let's explore another San Antonio rumor that's in the infant stages. It's light buzz right now, hardly a whisper, but there's speculation that there might be a number for Tiago Splitter that the Spurs would not be willing to meet. This actually makes some sense. Splitter is a really nice player but not a franchise guy. The Spurs are headed into a rebuild. They'd rather have Splitter than not, but they could also find better uses for $9.5-10 million a couple years down the road than paying it to Tiago.

Now...if you want to talk a really nice fit into Portland's frontcourt, let's talk Splitter. He's not a classic center but he stays within his offense, he's a potent enough scorer, and he can even defend a little. He'd look really nice playing alongside and behind LaMarcus Aldridge.

Side note: What would the Blazers need more of in this configuration? Bulk and rebounding. Enter the room exception and DeJuan Blair.

Let's say the Blazers got Splitter for $10 million. Woot! Happy dance. But if the total available cap space ranges between $13-15 million that's the only Big Woot you're going to get this summer and that's not enough. $3-5 million in space left isn't going to grow the bench the way the Blazers need. But if Portland can dump Freeland for nothing or next-to, now you're talking somewhere between $5-8 million left even with that $10 million offer going to Splitter. If you can shave a little off the big offer and even it out at two $9-million offers, all the better. Either way, that kind of remaining cheddar is enough to get you someone who can grate the cheese in the backcourt as well. Or if it's more your style, you can get two $3-5 million players to bolster the bench instead of just one. And either way you still have the room exception left when it's all done to chase Blair or Jermaine O'Neal or whomever you wish.

If the Blazers truly want to add 2-3 quality players to this roster--which they need to do--how and when they acquire players will be just as important as the players themselves. Depending on what other moves Portland's able to make, having patience with a guy like Blair could mean the difference between that third acquisition being a Sixth-Man of the Year candidate or just some guy you found for $4 million.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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