Here are some different ideas for upgrading the starting five. Whether you agree or not, it's a good read from a long-time lurker! Welcome to Blazer's Edge. :) -- Tim
This is my first post on Blazersedge! I've been a "lurker" since the 2007 season when I stumbled on this site looking for a little more in-depth analysis. I loved the analysis (not homer-ish, unless explicitly stated so) and the community, and especially the lengths that Dave and his group have gone to keep this site and community together and the conversation flowing.
I knew little about basketball in general before coming here and I've learned a ton from Dave, Ben, and the newer staff members, plus the comments everyone has contributed. As such, I'm excited (and a little apprehensive) to kick off my first suggestion thread with such a knowledgeable group, but here goes:
Everyone knows that Portland rises or falls by their "starting five" of Dame-Wes-Nic-LA-RoLo. This group has tremendous strengths but also key weaknesses that teams are starting to hone in on directly. Is there a way to upgrade the starting five to address these weaknesses while keeping the strengths and chemistry of this group?
Here's how I see it:
Shooting, passing, two shot-creators, rebounding, post defense (especially evident against Memphis), unselfishness/chemistry, mid-range shooting, 3pt-defense, free-throw shooting.
PnR defense, screens (setting and navigating), consistent energy (starting games slowly...though this might be a bench issue), lack of secondary ball handlers, PnR finishers.
IMO, the weakest links of the starting five are Batum and RoLo.
To me, Batum is our Jeff Green; a talented near-All-Star player who just never quite put it all together. I think he'd be better off the bench, but Portland can't afford a 12 million dollar bench guy. Consistency and defense is what I'm looking for here.
RoLo: I love RoLo, love his energy, heart, and dirty work. That said, he's not enough of a threat on offense to punish teams for cheating off of him (look at Marc Gasol and his ability to cover two men in the paint on defense) and on defense he struggles to move out of the paint to challenge the PnR (although this may be part to blame on Portland's defensive scheme and guard defense).
So, here's my trade scenario, borrowing heavily from T Darkstar's guide to the off-season (which started this whole train of thought). If I make some mistakes on the salary cap, well, tell me if the concept works. Note: This also assumes that Afflalo opts out of his contract. CAP: 67.1 million.
The framework is to renounce as many free agents as possible to create enough cap space to make a run at two free-agents starters. The salaries will be off-set by the cap holds created by the empty roster spots:
Batum - 12,235,750
Renounce Kaman: (1,000,000 guaranteed). Roster Cap hold: 525,093
Renounce Crabbe (947,276) - Roster Cap hold: 525,093
Renounce Frazier (845,059) - Roster Cap hold: 525,093
Renounce Wright (4.175 million) - Roster Cap hold: 525,093
This brings us to:
Under contract 22,073,077 + Cap holds (so far) 2,100,372.00 = 24,173,449
Here's the interesting part: I tell this group (except Kaman) "look, we need the cap space to upgrade the team: we'd like to bring you all back on vet-minimum contracts after we're done signing; go look for contracts, but we want you back. Your benefit: You'll make more money for longer, since you were on below-one-million-dollar deals before.
I'd assume Crabbe, Frazier, would be back, Wright, maybe, maybe not.
Sign LA to a 20.1 million dollar contract. Give him a two-year player option if he wants to. Just get him to sign.
24,173,449 + 20,100,000 = 44,273,449
Wes Matthews: Reward loyalty. "Wes, we're going to sign you to a 15 million dollar contract for 4 years. Don't worry about it, we got your back. We're just going to wait until our other free-agent signings are done. We're about loyalty in this organization."
Matthews Cap hit: 10,868,460
44,273,449 + 10,868,460 = 55,141,909
Steve Blake/Joel Freeland: Win-Win for everyone.
"Steve/Joel, we like your veteran presence and steadiness. Steve, we want you to opt-out. In return you're going to get the same contract, only with 4 years instead of 1, as part of the MLE + 100,000 for a total of 2.2 millionx4 years.
Joel, we're going to renounce you. But we are offering you a four-year contract at around 4.1 million as part of the MLE. And you'll be getting more minutes.
For the sake of this post, both accept.
Blake roster cap hold: 525,093.00
Freeland cap hold: 525,093.
55,141,909 + Cap holds 1,050,186.00 = 56,192,095.00
Hard part: Renounce Lopez unconditionally. No words.
Cap hold: 525,093.00
Total: 56,192,095 + 525,093 = 56,717,188 + 525,093 (13th roster spot cap hold). = 57,242,281.00
What to do with the draft pick? Answer: Euro-stash or part of the following trade on draft-day:
Atlanta Hawks: Draft pick (we make the pick for them) + Batum for Demarre Carroll (Sign and trade).
Why Atlanta does it: Batum is a perfect fit for the Hawk's system. He is a better passer and shooter than Carroll right now. Perhaps a change of scenery and a chance to play for a Popovich coach will revitalize Batum. The draft selection will relieve some salary pressure. Give them a future draft pick if necessary. We are in win-now mode.
Why Portland does it: Demarre Carroll is a Jazz product like Matthews. Energy, hard-nosed defense, shooting, and work ethic. There will be no more questions about production and consistency from the 3 spot. I think Demarre Carroll is Wes Matthews in a larger body. Only getting better.
Trade Batum + Draft Selection: -12,235,750 from our salary (Batum contract)
New salary: 45,006,531. Temporary Cap room = 22,093,469
Demarre Carroll: 4 years/40 million dollar contract. (10,000,000 per year). This is within 5,000,000 of the outgoing salary and should therefore be legal. If Carroll continues to improve, this is a steal of a contract with the new TV money.
New Cap Room: 12,093,469.00
Sign: Tyson Chandler with the remaining money.
Why TC does it: Dallas hasn't exactly been loyal. It's already known they are really desiring Deandre Jordan. The team still has no point guard. Dirk is in decline, and TC doesn't have much time left either. Parsons may be out sooner rather than later (we all know about knee injuries here). He knows Stotts from Dallas, and he fits the system. And I don't think Dallas is going to pay him more. Give him a 1-year player option on a 4 year contract if he wants it to sweeten the deal and get more TV money.
Why Portland does it: TC is all of Lopez qualities (minus a jump shot) plus more mobile. He's a defensive captain. He's a great locker room guy. He knows Stotts' system. He's an elite PnR finisher. He's not a free-throw liability.
Last step: Portland re-signs their minimum guys for the vet minimum or the MLE (If it's not legal, finding minimum vets to fill out a roster isn't exactly hard).
New roster: Should maintain chemistry (Carroll and Chandler are excellent locker room guys).
Offense: Portland retains its shooting ability vs. the old roster with a little worse jump shooting from Chandler. Portland already spreads the floor with shooters; now they can spread the floor with shooters and Chandler's ability to finish around the rim; defenses would be stretched beyond the breaking point. Two seven footers in the starting unit would punish teams for going small, especially given Aldridge's ability to switch onto smaller players at the 3-5. This lineup if versatile and deep. Looking at the Dallas championship run in 2011, McCollum can play the part of Jason Terry if necessary and Leonard gives Stotts the ability to play all-shooting lineups (like vs. Memphis) or retain a shooting threat at the 4 for 48 minutes without going small. LA is not as comfortable in the PnR, leading teams to overplay the Pick n Pop. With Chandler in the game, teams have to keep a man on TC (Thanks Willy for your write-up!).
Carroll is used to a motion, pass-heavy offense with Atlanta. As a fourth or fifth option, he can improve his game while continuing to be a shooter, cutter, and passer.
Defense: Here is where it gets really good. Chandler is everything Lopez is plus additional mobility. He also is great at calling assignments and really captaining the defense. His mobility and length should finally allow Portland to better contain the PnR, sewing up a major Portland liability. While older, he fits the Blazer's championship window with LA.
Carroll brings the size and strength to defend the wing positions, plus he has the energy and intensity that Batum lacks. With Matthews, Carroll, LA, and Chandler, Portland would be an elite defensive team.
Best part? If we wait on Lillard's extension, similar to what SAS is doing for Kawhi Leonard, we will again have significant cap space in 2016/2017 when the TV money kicks in to add one more piece.
A Portland team that can shoot, defend, attack the basket, PnP, PnR, has a stretch-5, secondary ball handlers...what more could be better?