Today we come to the end of our series of articles taking stock of the Portland Trail Blazers roster heading into the Summer of 2013.
If you've missed prior installments you can just click through any of these links: LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Eric Maynor and Will Barton, Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver
This post will cover the rest of the roster. We're not going into the same level of detail here for obvious reasons. Most of these guys won't be with the Blazers next year and thus can't be counted on to contribute to this summer's decisions save through their absence. But maybe you'll find enough redeeming qualities in one or two of them to argue that they should be kept.
J.J. Hickson deserves nothing but thanks from Blazers fans. Playing out of position, overmatched in size and height most nights, he still managed 13 points and 10 rebounds per game, the highest per-minute rebounding rate of his career, and the highest field goal and true shooting percentages of his career. He played his butt off. His inability to guard true centers proved his biggest flaw. He wasn't meant to play 2300 minutes in the middle, nor to start at the five. That's half the reason the Blazers won't retain him. The other half: his $8 million cap hold this summer. No matter how tempting his performance may have seemed--and it probably wasn't that tempting to a team whose top off-season priority is a defensive center--that cap hold will prevent the Blazers from keeping Hickson in the fold. The Blazers will have trouble achieving their off-season goals with the money available. Take away $8 million and they'll be done before they even start. Along with the "thank you" comes "goodbye" and "please don't kill us too much when you're playing for Miami".
Luke Babbitt's contract also expires this year. Saying he played well for the Blazers would be stretching it. But we can safely say he played better as his comfort level rose. At one point last year the guy had a negative PER. I didn't even know that was possible. He kept shooting threes and learned enough about rebounding and team defense to not embarrass himself. His 43% three-point clip last season was impressive. Unfortunately that fell to 35% this year. If Luke's not hitting the three at league-leading levels there's no justification to putting him on the court.
Babbitt's role in the league going forward will be stretch four. He doesn't have the athletic gifts to play small forward. You can't play him long at power forward either. But the Blazers targeted possessions in which his three-point prowess opened the lane for teammates. Stretch fours being fashionable, he could still fulfill that role somewhere. Heck, it could even be in Portland. Of all the Blazers without guarantees, Luke is probably the one they'd most consider bringing back because the long ball never goes out of style. Either way, he's not likely to be that much of a difference-maker.
This season Sasha Pavlovic had a couple good stretches, a couple bad games, and a whole lot of DNP's. Conditioning was an issue early on. As he took the court later in the season his veteran experience showed. He reminded Blazers fans how good a somewhat-below-average forward looked in comparison to the usual bench crew. A little bit of defense...the occasional triple...beggars can't be choosers. The Blazers hope to be more than beggars this summer and Pavlovic's contract isn't guaranteed. Even though it's only $1.4 million, Pavlovic didn't end up being worth it in comparison to anyone else besides his teammates. Other than 10 years experience you can't find a single number to justify retaining him.
In one of the more controversial pre-season posts I answered a mailbag question about the value of Joel Freeland and Victor Claver to this year's team by comparing them to Sea Monkeys. The most exciting things about them: they were mail-order and hadn't yet arrived. Once they hit the water the anticipation proved greater than the outcome. Freeland rebounded decently. Early in the season he showed no ability to play above the rim in the lane, leading to shots getting blocked or missing wildly in the face of NBA defense. As the season progressed he drifted farther out, relying on the jumper. It didn't help much. His shooting percentages were horrible, fouls drawn almost nil, defense nondescript. If he has a niche he hasn't figured it out yet. He's under contract for two more years at a guaranteed $3 million. Unlike Will Barton and Meyers Leonard, there's probably not a ton of Freeland's game yet to be revealed. Experience isn't his biggest limitation. He actually got in decent position for most of his offensive plays. (Defense not so much, but he improved.) His physical gifts just aren't up to NBA standards nor is his grasp of the game enough to make up for it. Assuming Freeland returns, he has a long way to go before making even a modest impact.
Elliot Williams has played 24 games since being drafted in the summer of 2010. He's missed over 200. That's not a promising ratio. The Blazers didn't pick up his option and he's an unrestricted free agent. Some fans have been tantalized by his athletic ability. Is that enough to make him a follow-up offer? Doubtful. Chances are he's seen his last days as a Blazer.
Nolan Smith all but announced that he was out of here before the season even ended. The amazing thing is that the Blazers followed suit. He never got comfortable on the floor, never produced, never fit in Portland's system. He appears to have physical gifts but whatever it is that players are supposed to get in order to make it in this league, he hasn't gotten yet. There's a better chance the Blazers will sign Miss Piggy to a five-year deal than them asking Nolan back.
And that's the lot. We started out with some high-rent shopping featuring LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. We ended up out back of the flea market searching for anything salvageable. Feel free to make your argument about why one or another of these players will make more of a difference than we've anticipated and to offer any other thoughts on Portland's roster as a whole heading into the summer.