The Blazers are entering an offseason of uncertainty. It's too early to tell what their needs will be, given that the direction of the franchise hinges on LaMarcus Aldridge's decision to either stay in Portland or continue his career elsewhere. However, it doesn't hurt to take a look at players that would fill secondary and tertiary roles almost certainly needed regardless of how the starting five pans out.
Our own Chris Lucia took a look at the backup point guard position by touching on what current backup guard Steve Blake brings to the table, and by suggesting the Blazers target Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson. We continue down that path by considering a riskier and perhaps less-palatable option: Knicks guard Jose Calderon.
Calderon was once considered among the better pass-first point guards in the league. In just over 30 minutes per game, Calderon averaged 11 points and 8 assists between 2008 to 2013, and while defense has never been strong, his offensive rating cracked 120 more than once, most recently in his 2013-14 season with Dallas. He also flirted with the 50-40-90 club (50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the free-throw line during a season) on more than one occasion, but either fell just short or failed to reach the NBA's minimum number of makes for eligibility.
A quick guard with adept court vision when healthy (more on that shortly), Calderon is able to penetrate and stay patient in traffic without getting flustered. He is most threatening as a facilitator, and while he's not the most creative passer, he can kick out to open players even when deep in the trees. He also looks for the lob, and is as comfortable letting the offense flow through him as he is running plays himself.
While Calderon doesn't take a ton of shots, he typically plays to his strengths: shooting off the dribble or in the catch-and-shoot from mid-range. Calderon is also a good three point shooter who hasn't shot below 40% from deep in more than a handful of seasons, and even broke 40% this year despite his overall struggles. However, you won't often see Calderon pull up from deep a-la Damian Lillard: Around 90% of Calderon's threes have been assisted over the last few seasons. Being a reliable outside threat, combined with his unselfishness and propensity to get others going, may make him an excellent fit for Terry Stotts' system off the bench.
A 10-year veteran, Calderon doesn't have a ton of playoff experience, and he's only played in three playoff series during his career. With that caveat, he was instrumental in helping his Dallas Mavericks push the eventual 2014 NBA champions San Antonio Spurs to a surprising Game 7 in the first round of last year's playoffs. This included a 16-point, 9-assist performance in a Game 3 won by Vince Carter's last-second corner three, assisted by an out-of-bounds pass by none other than Jose Calderon.
Unfortunately, time makes fools of us all, and Calderon is no exception. Coming into the league as a 24-year-old rookie in 2005, he is now 33 and coming off an Achilles strain that kept him out the last 25 games of this season, on top of a calf strain that kept him on the bench for the season's first 13. All told, he played fewer games this past season (42) than in any other in his career. His on-court play also suffered: His first step was noticeably slower, he had more trouble navigating screens, and was less willing to drive.
In Calderon's defense, perhaps a pass-first guard on this year's Knicks squad isn't a recipe for stellar production. New York is a rebuilding team with no identity beyond Carmelo Anthony, who suited up for just 40 games this season. And perhaps for the Trail Blazers, a team that values unselfishness and ball movement, a rested Calderon would progress back to his career means.
For the Blazers, the most important consideration with Calderon is whether his decline can be chalked up to acute injuries that will heal over the summer, or whether it's the beginning of the inevitable drop NBA players experience as they age. 33 is by no means young, but many players have proven they can stay effective well into their 30s: Steve Nash made the All-Star game at age 37, John Stockton averaged nearly 10 points and 8 assists as a 40-year-old, and Tim Duncan had a season this year at age 38 that most players would be envious of at 25. Unfortunately, Neil Olshey doesn't have a crystal ball, and even picking up Calderon on a bargain contract will carry some measure of risk.
Speaking of that contract, Calderon has 2 years and $15 million remaining, making him an unpalatable trade piece. However, there are rumblings that the Knicks could waive Calderon using the "stretch provision." If they do so before September 1, they can spread that $15 million over their next five seasons rather than just the next two, freeing up cap space that could be used elsewhere.
In this scenario, the Blazers might be able to pick him up for much less. Portland could give him a modest 3-year contract with a third-year team option at a reduced rate, giving Calderon some security without breaking the Blazers' bank.
Before bringing in Calderon, you would also have to decide what to do with current backup guard Steve Blake. While playing 81 games in an 82-game season is quite a feat, particularly for the 35-year-old Blake, there is very little hope that his production will be any more robust than the modest 4 points and 4 assists he offered this year, and his three-point shooting dipped to around 35%.
With Blake, you know what you're getting, and it's not great. With Calderon, you're gambling that he has something left in the tank and, after his injuries have healed, could provide flashes of sorely-needed production from a backup point guard position that's been a weak spot for the Blazers. For a team with a late first-round draft pick and a record of being low on free agents' destination wish lists, a gamble like Calderon might give the team an unexpected shot of talent that could help them in a talent-laden Western Conference next year.