While the rest of the NBA waits on LeBron James, Portland has shored up its bench by using its bi-annual exception to sign point guard Steve Blake to a two-year contract worth $4.2 million. The deal reportedly includes a player option on the second season.
Blake fills a hole for the Blazers at guard left by Mo Williams, who is still mulling his options as an unrestricted free agent. No stranger to the Northwest, Blake's return to the Trail Blazers has been met with some resistance among fans. Still, the 34-year-old vet should be a solid choice to back up Damian Lillard as the Blazers press for the playoffs once again.
Grabbing Blake for a minimal salary makes sense when you take a look at the available talent. The bi-annual exception for 2014-15 stands at $2.077 million according to CBA FAQ, which is a relatively tiny amount of money more commonly used for veterans looking to find minutes on a playoff team. Blake made $4 million last year, and so his new deal makes sense both in his career arc and based off of prior earnings.
Like the Blake pickup for POR. Could still bring back Mo Williams, but can only offer about $3.2M, and roster reaching its limit.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 10, 2014
Really like that pickup for Portland.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 10, 2014
Studying the past market for back-up point guards, this holds true. In a sample of Eric Maynor, Pablo Prigioni, C.J. Watson, Earl Watson, Mo Williams, Jordan Farmar, Aaron Brooks, D.J. Augustin and Devin Harris, the group made an average of $1.522 million last season. At the top was Maynor and C.J. Watson, who each made the biannual of $2.016 last season. At the bottom was Augustin, who far outperformed his $755,459 minimum salary contract in Chicago.
So, does Blake's contract match the expected payout based on prior performance?
Using the play index at Basketball-Reference.com we can at least get a bit of an idea how well Blake stacks up against this group, many of whom are free agents once again and could have been considered by Blazers GM Neil Olshey. In terms of per-36 minute production for points, field goal percentage, steals and turnovers, Blake ranks around the middle of the pack. However, Blake is the second-best three-point shooter by percentage and led the group by more than a full assist per-36 minutes last season.
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So, what are we to make of all this information? Context is key. Any Blazers fan being honest with himself or herself has to realize that Portland wasn't in the market for any of the young, second-tier guards once they decided to use the mid-level exception on center Chris Kaman.
Past salary comparisons suggest that there was never going to be an Isaiah Thomas, Jerryd Bayless or Jordan Crawford in Rip City unless it was for more than the BAE could offer. Players like Steve Blake, Devin Harris, Aaron Brooks, Luke Ridnour and Jameer Nelson were always more likely. When you take into account the fact that big men in the NBA are naturally more expensive than backup guards, it was a logical decision for the Blazers to use their BAE on a player like Blake.
The back-up point guard role was a sore spot for the Blazers after last season, when Williams was trapped by a lack of help off the bench and by his own sometimes questionable decision-making. Blake can be a useful part of Portland's offense next season, but he's not quite talented enough to single-handedly move the needle.
What the Blazers need is some stability off the bench rather than the peaks and valleys to which they've become accustomed. Signing Blake, despite some moaning from Twitter, was a sound move in principle with the salary slot available. I still think it's possible that Olshey is planning a trade for a better bench wing scorer, but getting Blake in place allowed Portland to cover themselves as they wait for Williams to make a decision.