After a 2012-13 rookie campaign that left more question marks than answers, Portland Trail Blazers forward Victor Claver found himself at the end of coach Terry Stotts' bench for much of his second year.
Claver, 25, was drafted No. 22 overall in 2009 by former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard. At the time, the 6-foot-9 Spanish prospect was considered a solid role player who had good basketball IQ, court sense, awareness on the defensive end and a decent shooting stroke. Knocks on Claver included a lack of strength, slow foot speed and a passive attitude on the offensive end.
When Blazers GM Neil Olshey inked Claver to a three-year, $4 million deal in July of 2012, he said in a press release from the organization:
Victor is a player with a high basketball IQ who will come in as a good complement to our roster. He defends well for his size, has a nice shooting touch, and we look forward to having him on board.
Olshey continued the praise of Claver in an interview with the Oregonian's Mike Tokito on July 11, 2012:
We think he's really talented. I think he's more suited for the NBA than Europe. Really good play-maker, good defender, rebounds the ball, great length. He'll help us shrink he court defensively.
As part of the NBA's worst bench in his 2012-13 rookie season, Claver played in 49 games and averaged 16.6 minutes in those appearances. Shooting just 39.2 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from deep that year, he was unable to reinforce his reputation as a solid shooter.
The following offseason, Olshey shored up Stotts' bench rotation by adding forwards Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson. Big man Joel Freeland opted out of participating with Great Britain's national team that summer to spend time training individually and wing Will Barton, who had shown promise as a capable bench player toward the end of the year, was in the mix for minutes heading into the 2013-14 season.
Claver was suddenly the odd man out. As last year progressed, Stotts went mainly with Wright and Barton backing up starting small forward Nicolas Batum while Robinson and Freeland backed up All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Early on last year, Claver proved unable to push his way up in the rotation.
A rumor floated last November by a Spanish website had Claver unhappy with his playing time and ready for a return to Europe. The Spanish forward then cleared the air a few days later in an interview partially translated by HoopsHype.com:
Portland is where I want to be, but it's true that I want to play and here I'm not having the chance to do it. The season is very long, let's see if the situation changes later on.
I don't know if there's the chance of a trade. If it happened, I hope it is for the better. Returning to Europe? I'm not thinking about it right now.
Later on, Claver reiterated the same stance, telling both NBAManiacs.com and Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com that he was, essentially, just hoping for more playing time.
As the season progressed, Claver spent much of his time inactive and in street clothes, otherwise collecting DNP-CDs and only appearing in 21 games at 8.8 minutes per contest. For the year, he shot 40.5 percent from the field, including a 16.7 percent clip from outside as the minutes he was seeking never came. In a videocast back in March, Sam Tongue and Dave Deckard of Blazersedge both considered Claver an effective defensive player but an underwhelming offensive threat -- more or less the pre-draft scouting report on the import from Spain five years prior.
In team exit interviews following last season, neither Stotts nor Olshey touched on Claver or his future with the Blazers. In his own exit interview, Claver told reporters when asked about a potential trade:
I need to play. I don't know where. I don't know if they're going to give me the opportunity here or if I'll have to go to another team. I have to play because it's my last year. It's very important for me. I can't be another year with no playing time.
Claver also said in his exit interview that he wouldn't be participating with Portland in the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League -- which will include Barton, Freeland and Robinson on the roster -- in favor of playing with the Spanish national team.
With a solid group of starters helping the Blazers finish the 2013-14 season with 54 wins, Olshey's main task this summer appears to be shoring up Stotts' bench rotation. With sixth man Mo Williams' likely opt-out and veteran Earl Watson walking, Portland's GM has two potential roster spots and limited salary cap space to work with. Wright, Barton, Freeland and Robinson are all on the Blazers' books through next season, also Claver's last guaranteed year with the team.
With high-minute starters and a glut of forwards on Portland's bench -- not to mention possible reinforcements Olshey could bring in this offseason -- what is Claver's spot in the Blazers' rotation going forward? At the small forward position, Wright brings over a decade of NBA experience and a reputation as a spot-up shooter while Barton is a pure scorer. At power forward, Robinson has through-the-roof potential on both sides of the ball and plenty of athleticism as Freeland brings gritty, consistent effort on a nightly basis.
As more of a multi-use tool who doesn't really excel at anything, does Claver bring any one thing off Portland's bench that can't be found elsewhere, and likely more efficiently?
A panel of four Blazers experts from local media -- including The Oregonian's Joe Freeman, Trail Blazers Digital Reporter Casey Holdahl, The Columbian's Erik Gundersen and Ben Golliver from Blazersedge -- unanimously agreed in a roundtable discussion back in May that the 2014-15 season looks to be Claver's last year with Portland barring unforeseen circumstances.
Golliver even advocated a trade of the two-year forward in his response:
Please trade this man already, for his sake. Victor Claver did a nice job staying professional throughout the 2013-14 season, even though he barely played. Both the Blazers and Claver got basically nothing from their relationship this season, and that will continue as long as Claver struggles to knock down wide-open shots on the perimeter. I enjoy watching him play -- particularly with the Spanish national team, where his comfort factor appears much higher than in Portland -- but it's time for him to find a new home. Portland is well covered at his position.
What do you think the Blazers should do with Claver? Perhaps Olshey should be seeking a trade partner willing to take a gamble on the Spanish wing, but does one exist? Claver's $1.37 million contract for next year could also function in a three-team trade or be part of a bigger deal ... Or maybe you think Claver can find his way into Stotts' bench rotation next season and be a contributing role-player for the Blazers going forward. Under what circumstances do you see that happening?
Regardless of what Olshey has up his sleeves this summer, though, this is an important offseason for Claver, as his future with Portland certainly appears murky at best.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter