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Portland Trail Blazers: Trades and Future Plans

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Portland's free agency moves appear to be over. Is this the end of the summer shuffling or could they pull a rabbit out of the hat?

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A couple of summer-oriented questions populate today's Mailbag.

Dave,

So free agency ranked somewhere between underwhelming and a bust. What trades can we pull to make this team better? How do you see improving from here going?

Silas

Free agency wasn't a bust. The Blazers may not have taken great leaps forward but they did a decent job reorganizing a roster that ended up looking patchwork last year. Chris Kaman takes pressure off of the reserve "centers", letting the Blazers choose when to play Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard instead of being forced to put them on the floor (or to send LaMarcus Aldridge to the 5). Steve Blake seals up the back-up point guard position without getting in the way of the shooting guards, allowing C.J. McCollum and Will Barton to focus on scoring. As Terry Stotts said in a Summer League interview the other day, those guys are lined up for an opportunity. The Blazers have narrowed focus on that opportunity enough that those young wings could actually fill it. They'll get every chance possible. If they step up, great. If none of them do, well...we know all we need to know about them then, right? Either way, the team ends up ahead.

Granted, from a global perspective the Blazers didn't do anything that special this summer. But they haven't gone backwards. Instead they've adjusted angle just slightly on the direction they were already taking.

You're correct that even if that direction makes sense, Portland could use more momentum. That's what most folks were hoping for out of the free agency period. Younger veterans than Kaman or Blake might have provided it. That didn't happen.

I don't see much momentum to be gained on the trade front either. Freeland, Leonard, McCollum, Barton, Dorell Wright, Allen Crabbe, Victor Claver. The Blazers could easily afford to part with a couple of those guys. They also have a 2015 or 2016 first-round pick to dangle. But what would such a package bring in return? We're not talking Murderer's Row here. Portland will be looking for another team wanting to make a salary dump. Absent that, the cupboard's bare. The Blazers will have a hard time bringing in a significant roster booster offering those players and a presumably mediocre pick.

Unless something comes out of left field, this is the roster the Blazers will enter the regular season with. The MLE was the only major vehicle for roster change the Blazers held this summer. They'll need to manufacture something pretty unusual to milk more out of this off-season than Kaman.

Dave,

HELP!  What the [redacted by editor]? BLAKE??  KAMAN??  Help me see a plan here besides more of the same!  I don't get how the Blazers are doing free agents.

Ian

More of the same--plus a couple strategic additions who won't compromise cap flexibility--IS the plan.

Teams improve their roster in three ways: free agency, trades, and the draft. Every franchise prioritizes the three differently. Emphases change based on the environment as well. If you've got $24 million in cap space this summer, it just might be the time to rely on the free agent market.

Portland's free agent philosophy in the Olshey era has been pretty consistent. The Blazers aren't making big splashes. They appear to make a run at one guy they like (Roy Hibbert, Tiago Splitter, Spencer Hawes) and if they don't get their man they either use their cap space for trades or buy up low-cost, short-term alternatives to tide them over. It's not like they've given up on the process, but they have telegraphed--at least for now--that their eggs aren't going into this basket.

Trades and the draft have garnered far more attention, energy, and results than the free agency market has. Leonard, McCollum, Barton, Crabbe, and Damian Lillard are Olshey draftees. Robinson and Robin Lopez were products of trades. Compare those 7 guys to Kaman, Blake, Wright, Mo Williams, and Earl Watson. You can see where the future of this team lies and it's not with the free agents.

This could all change next summer with Portland's possible cap space. Or that space could get eaten up by re-signing current players and facilitating more trades.

For now, the Blazers are pretty much tapped out on all three fronts. They don't have any more cap room, they spent their exceptions, their roster is full. They don't have significant trade bait. Their future draft picks project middle ground or lower. Whatever their philosophy might be, the real problem now is resources. You can gaze at that Dodge Viper in the showroom window all you want. If your wallet's empty, you ain't getting it.

How Olshey and company generate resources going forward will prove as critical as any philosophical choice between the value of free agency versus trades versus the draft. Until they get more ammunition, digging in and gaining ground inch by inch might be the only way forward.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)