The next 2-4 weeks are going to seal the fate of LMA's tenure in Portland. The Pandora's box, that is his future, at some point needed to be opened and addressed, and several local and national reporters last week found the key. We all knew that LMA's patience through a rebuild while entering his prime, was a delicate situation. However, the time for serious action is now. In a month, we should know whether to keep LMA or deal him later this summer.
The Case for Keeping Him
As a Top 3 PF in the game, LMA should be able to call some shots in his organization. And since Olshey arrived, I sense that there has been a mutual understanding between them on what needs to transpire in order for the team to get back into contention. And if those plans cannot come to fruition within Olshey's first two summers, than LMA will desire to be traded. He's living up to his end of the bargain, and it's highly commendable. We're one summer down, and it netted us a franchise PG who really excels at the PnR, a key component to LMA's game. However, last summer didn't net us much else other than a one year rental of JJ, flashes of great potential followed by oceans of frustration in Meyers Leonard, and the slight overpayment of Nic Batum. The fact we got Lillard is huge, and should be a core piece to LMA wanting to staying and see this out.
Tonight begins Olshey's second quest to acquire the missing pieces to get back to the playoffs. To appease LMA and address the biggest need, he's going to have to find a center. I don't think it's going to happen in free agency. They'll probably sign a vet to help the young guys and play spot minutes and who is cheap, but there just isn't a quality free agent starter who can be relied on for big minutes other than Pekovic, and I don't see Olshey going down the RFA route on a center again. He may, but he can't afford to get burned again. So he's going to have pull of a trade to acquire a center. For LMA to feel he has a competent big along side him, I feel Olshey is going to have to land on of these guys in July:
Other than Blatche and Pek, all of the others will require a trade of a core piece from us. Wes is the easiest target along with Freeland and future considerations. Olshey is going to have to sell this package hard, and hope that one of these guys can man the middle next year and provide the support LMA has desperately needed. Before this happens however, he's going to need to find another big time weapon on the wing. This is difficult, because there are not many available. But SG/SF is an area that if you don't have elite talent, or a roster chock full of above average talent, then you don't contend. Plain and Simple. Matthews and Batum together are not enough. So Olshey is going to have to pull a rabbit out here and hit a home run. That means getting one of these guys through FA or Trade:
Eric Gordon (scary I know, and health is a big ?, but it wasn't long ago that most pegged him as Top 5 shooting guard)
Now, these guys all come with their flaws (which I'm sure I'll get beat up about in the comments), but if you add up the equation of Blazers' need + sheer talent + availability + price + star power, then these players seem to fit the bill. If Olshey finds a way to land one of these guys along with one of the centers mentioned above, then the Blazers will have positioned themselves to get back in business in LMA's window. You could argue that with two years to gel, along with improvement from your young players (especially Dame), you could be fighting for the WCF or more in LMA's contract season. That should pave the way for a max extension.
Lastly, in the case to keep LMA, I bring up intangibles. You would hope that LMA appreciates that this is his team, he's the big dog. The All-Star. There has to be some pride in that. You would hope that in his development now, it's not about the physical part of his game, but rather the competitive and leadership nature you would see from a Tim Duncan or KG. By now he should see how those PFs transformed the attitudes of their teams and demanded excellence. He's at a career stage, with the young core around him, to take a big leap forward in creating that culture. By staying, he can truly establish a legacy that he could not do otherwise by being part of a Big 3 in another market. He could become like a Reggie Miller, who had up and down years with the Pacers, but was loyal,hard working, and almost got his team to a championship. But they were in the hunt for several years in the 90's because Reggie Miller was the franchise rock. Miller bled Pacer Blue and Yellow, and you would hope that LMA could adopt this sentiment for the Blazers. If he stayed here for his career, he would most likely go down as the greatest Blazer ever. I can't blame LMA for wanting to be on a great team elsewhere if we can't build it here, but I'm hoping he realizes that much of this team's success falls on him and his impact on the locker room.
The Case to Trade LMA this Summer
This is really the hard part. First you have to start with what Olshey can accomplish in the next few weeks. If the best he can do is add OJ Mayo, Robin Lopez, Spencer Hawes, Chris Kaman or Jermaine O'Neal, then we are in REAL trouble. To spend our cap space on a few guys that allows us to knock on the door for the #7 or #8 playoff spot, without much upside, then I'm afraid you have to strip this thing down. Immediately. You cannot go into next season knowing you have limited potential for growth.
Once Olshey realizes that there are no "needle movers" within his grasp for a second straight year, he will have no choice but to go after the best package of young assets for LMA. He then will position the team to land a great pick in the vaunted 2014 draft. If he allows a mediocre team led by LMA take the floor next season, he's killing not only the inevitable trade value of LMA, but he's taking us further away from landing one of the top franchise changing rookies. If we could start fresh with Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett and know that we should also be in the mix for a top 7 pick next year, then this really might be the best course of action to set forth this August.
We weren't supposed to be in rebuild mode now. We expected to be in Finals mode with Roy/Oden/Aldridge. So while it seems like we're in a continual rebuild, we are, but by force. The fact the LMA represents a living piece to a lost dream, may be enough for him to say privately, "I want out after my contract expires, regardless of how good we are. I just need a change of scenery." If that's true, which I think it very well may be, then we should go in a new direction now instead of later. If we wait, it will handicap our ability to maximize our return assets and prolong the rebuild process.
As long as this team has a clear direction of where it wants to go with a plan on how to get there, I can root for this team. We can't become Charlotte or Sac and do dumb move after dumb move just for the sake of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. I trust Olshey to make every attempt possible to hit it big, but I'm cautiously optimistic about how successful he'll be.
No one, outside of Portland, is talking about us this summer. All of the debates about where FAs are going to land and the best fits for them, run the gamut, but Portland isn't one of them. If OJ Mayo is headlining our summer, that makes me fearful that we are stuck in the NBA's no man's land, with little room to improve without a LMA trade. Which then begs the question, will we ever be able to retain top talent in today's environment? You probably do better by getting a core all closely grouped together in age and complimentary skills ala Roy/Oden/LMA or KD/Westbrook/Harden. In the end, that may be the best recipe for success, and this summer is much ado about nothing. Nothing other than trading your All Star PF to set the course for your future.