It is abundantly clear that the Blazers' number one priority in the offseason is finding a center who can protect the paint. The next major piece is a slashing shooting guard who can be a consistent defender backing up Matthews, or possibly starting, and moving Matthews' scoring to the bench. Will Barton had some impressive performances to finish the season, but he appears to be a ways off from being a reliable rotation player. Lockdown defender Tony Allen will be a free agent this offseason and was quoted recently saying of GM Neil Olshey "If a player knows him, they will want to play for him." Dynamic scorer and 2013 free agent O.J. Mayo also spoke fondly of Olshey "I love him. Love him dearly." Either player would be a major addition to the Blazers' roster, but will likely be too expensive to bring in along with a capable center.
Barton is the latest athlete from a long line of explosive players to come out of Memphis. We all know about Derrick Rose who, despite his injuries, is one of the most athletic point guards ever. Tyreke Evens is another scorer who could be a potential "needle mover" for the Blazers. Some of us might remember Michael "Wild Thing" Wilson from the 1995 Memphis Sweet 16 team, who at 6'5" was the first person to hold the world record with a 12 foot dunk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNhE0eJe5KI (The Texarkana Gazette reported that Wilson had a 52-inch vertical)
And how about the Blazers' 22nd pick from the 2010 draft, Elliot Williams? Like Rose, Williams will be coming off a major injury (torn left Achilles) that forced him to miss the whole 2012-13 season. Williams also missed the entire 2010-11 season with a dislocated right patella tendon, and part of the 2011-12 season with a dislocated shoulder. Williams' contract expired on March 10th, making him an unrestricted free agent. Days later on March 14th Williams was cleared to play in summer league. His injury history makes Williams a risky choice, but it also makes him very affordable and worth considering if the Blazers bring in a high priced center.
It is hard to predict if Elliot Williams will fit into the roster next year, but one can imagine how exciting it would be to see Lillard or Maynor running a fast break along with Barton and Williams on the wings ready to catch a lob pass for a dunk. Here is Olshey's take on Williams back in February:
"Right now we just don't have a big enough sample size to make a decision on whether Elliot is a part of the future or he isn't... We've been able to evaluate everybody else on the roster. But with him, there's still some uncertainty there and we wanted to keep him in the fold going forward."
In order to give the Blazers management a chance to check Williams out before they make a decision, I hope they will add him to the summer league roster. Noted for his defense and athleticism, it would be great to see Williams play along with Lillard and Barton pressuring opposing perimeter players with traps and steals. Maybe we'd get the chance to see a couple Memphis fast breaks. Williams never posted a 52 inch vertical like "Wild Thing" Wilson, but 48 inches is not far off. Let's see if he's still got it. Olshey has said he plans to make all of his moves before draft night ends. He should think of Williams as insurance at the wing position as the Blazers go after a center.