A friend called today and asked how I thought the Blazers were doing in free agency. My somewhat-facetious reply: "If you like Thomas Robinson they're doing GREAT! Otherwise, not so much..."
As name after name falls off the available list--Splitter, Asik, Gortat, Pekovic, Paul, Redick, Budinger, West, Martin--it feels like the Blazers are getting left behind. Though that impression is flawed, it contains a kernel of truth. The first few days of free agency are telling. Some teams signal that they intend to make decisive strokes, write checks, push up a level. The Rockets and Clippers have been obvious examples this year. Other teams play the weird guy on the beach with a metal detector, walking in the wake of the party and hoping to find a diamond ring that somebody misplaced. Portland's more in that camp at the moment.
On the other hand, some moves take longer than others. Free agents (and their agents) sometimes have to come to grips with salary reality. People want to see where dominoes fall before making commitments. Trades often take longer to execute than signings. The good news: there's plenty of action left in the summer. The bad news: usually the later that action comes the lesser the player it involves.
With attractive names falling like dominoes, what moves remain available to the Blazers? They include:
The Modest Center Signing
The Blazers have enough cap space to entice players like Chris Kaman, Zaza Pachulia, and Samuel Dalembert into the fold. They can still get a starting center, just not a young, prime one. The interpretation of this kind of move can go either way. It could be seen as tucking tail and slinking out of the free agency period or it could be seen as having so much confidence in the young centers on the roster that you don't need more than a two-year, 25 mpg rental starter before they're ready.
The Less-Modest Guard Signing
O.J. Mayo and Jarrett Jack are still on the board if the Blazers wanted to forget centers entirely and make a run at a point-producing backcourt player with a splashy name. These guys would be more valuable assets than any of the centers mentioned above. At the same time it's hard to see the Blazers cramming another player into a backcourt populated by Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and new draftee C.J. McCollum.
The Little Salary-Dump Trade
If the Blazers can find a taker for Joel Freeland's contract they'd conceivably have enough money to sign two modest veterans (e.g. Kaman and Carl Landry) or one big free agent (like taking a desperate stab at Pekovic).
The Big Trade
The Blazers could still consider trading Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum,with or without smaller contracts, to make a run at anybody they desire. These contracts would clear enough cap space for the Blazers to absorb almost any available player whether free agent, sign-and-trade recipient, or just a dude on another team.
Folks might want to keep an eye on Wesley Matthews' situation. Portland has already crowded the shooting guard position by picking up C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe to go along with Matthews and Will Barton. If they chase anyone else who leans towards shooting guard you have to believe that somebody's going to get moved.
The Whopper Trade
We talked about LaMarcus Aldridge trade possibilities yesterday. There's no need to rehearse those except to say that every step the Blazers make towards youth and every failure to bring in top-notch veteran talent makes Aldridge less of a fit for this franchise. Surprises are possible, but in general waiting on free agents is not a good sign for those on Aldridge watch.
The Sneaky Sign-and-Trade
Technically the Blazers haven't released J.J. Hickson yet. If another team valued him in a sign-and-trade arrangement because they were over the cap and couldn't sign him outright, the Blazers could still oblige.
Blazer fans can certainly take heart. Options yet abound, at least in terms of executing a move. Potential targets for that move may be another story, so caution is in order too. Striking out in free agency is an ever-present peril especially when you're working from Portland's position, lacking both money and a winning record.
Blazer fans may expect that the team will do something. That something may end up looking like a Chris Kaman signing and not much else. Debate can then ensue whether something was better than nothing.
What's your call? If you were going into free agency hoping for Omer Asik and O.J. Mayo, JaVale McGee and Jarrett Jack, Marcin Gortat and J.J. Redick, would Chris Kaman, Thomas Robinson, and C.J. McCollum be enough of a consolation prize for you? If not, what kind of signing or trade would turn it around in your mind?