For all the talk of moving needles, missed chances, and small market woe, a crucial point has been consistently overlooked in debates about the Blazers' offseason success or failure: we had the worst bench in the league last year. Not a lousy bench, not an underperforming, disappointing, or severely limited bench. THE WORST BENCH IN THE NBA, and quite possibly one of the worst in history. We were not one star FA away from 'moving the needle,' whatever the heck that means. One guy, no matter how good [usual caveats about LeBron, Durant, etc] would not have solved the blazers' most glaring problem: too few credible NBA players on the team, aka Bad Bench Syndrome.
The implicit assumption in grading the front office seems to be that our top priorities should have been upgrading the 5 and the 2, in that order. I claim our top priorities should have been upgrading the bench and our interior defense, in that order. As I've noted in another recent post (See 'Let's talk about Wes, baby'), it would've been a grave error to blow all our cap room on a 'marquee' shooting guard. Wanting to swap Wes into a Tyreke, Monta, or even Iggi is a classic case of grass is greener thinking. I won't belabor the point here, but let's just say Wes maps very well onto the prototype wing that can help win championships in today's NBA. Ask the Spurs, Bulls, Pacers or Heat if they would prefer Wes on his contract or one of the FA SG targets on their new contracts. Worried about ball handling? We've got CJ now, and Batum's on ball skills are improving. None of the teams mentioned above has more than two or three heavy handling rotation guys. What they do all have in common are multiple tough, defensively minded wings who can shoot from distance.
But I'll go further. Even if we could've somehow signed an Asik, a Pek, or EVEN a Dwight (and for what it's worth, I don't think any of those guys were attainable w/o us getting completely shafted), we still would've been a 6-man team...maybe a 5 man team, depending on what we would've had to give up. We don't need to go 10 deep, but we sure as hall need to go at least 8 deep to be competitive in this western conference. Now, some might argue that you lock in your big names, then focus on shoring up the bench as needed with a few slick moves, vet signings, etc. And that might just work if you're looking to upgrade your bench from average to slightly above, or even from poor to slightly below avg. But I will remind those who keep forgetting: WE HAD THE WORST BENCH IN THE LEAGUE LAST YEAR! Scrub City, not Rip City. There is absolutely no way, in any universe, we could've signed the folks people have been crying for AND been able to meaningfully upgrade our putrid bench from its league-worst futility.
So what's my assessment of the summer? CJ and Crabbe were excellent draft picks, and absolutely help us where we need help. I think the TRob signing was brilliant-- Houston picked him up for a good reason, and dropped him for a good reason, and it was circumstance, not his play, that led to the dropping. I think RLope is actually an underrated player, a great defender still w/ upside, and is the rim protector Gotham needs, if not the one it deserves. He seems the best option we had, and if Asik ever does become available, we might be able to flip him. And i think Wright is a very good bench option with the 'winning wing' qualities mentioned above. Never been a huge Watson fan, but he's infinitely preferable to Nolan as a third string PG-- again, good signing. In short, our starting five is better than last year, and our bench will be MUCH better, maybe even close to average. Given what appear to be have been the realistic options in the draft and free agency, I think NO has done a first rate job, and those who think he could've done better at least have to consider the possibility they're wish-thinking (concrete alternative scenarios would be appreciated).