I've never been so unsure about the Trail Blazers' roster in my life but by my count, the Blazers have 16 guys with guaranteed or unguaranteed contracts. Eighteen if you count Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller. Assuming those vets get waived that still leaves the team with one too many. This leads to the obvious question: Who's the odd man out?
Everyone with a guaranteed contract is probably safe. Pat Connaughton would be the one most at risk but even his footing seems quite solid. Portland gave him not one, but two years guaranteed and is fairly thin on the wing. This is especially true if we limit the criteria to wings who can shoot. It's helpful to be a rare commodity on a team. I would imagine his ability to go play baseball gave him more leverage in negotiations but that contract, in combination with his unique skillset, is a strong signal pointing to a long term future with the team.
Moving on to unguaranteed contracts, Allen Crabbe's is unique because the team must decide to waive him by the end of the month rather than during training camp. He was probably safe anyway considering his history with the team and relatively strong showing at summer league but the timing should put the nail in the coffin.
Luis Montero is perhaps the most interesting case but I'll be surprised if he doesn't make the team. Check out his profile:
- 6'7" with a 7'1" wingspan
- Good athlete
- Good shooter
- Not much experience with organized basketball
- Played point guard (!!!)
- Very thin, still developing physically
- Highest level played was community college
So many things about this profile are intriguing.
First off, does anyone think they'll know how good this guy can be after a single training camp? He sounds so raw that it could be two years before anyone has an educated guess. Sure, he's 22 but in basketball years he's more like 18 coming straight out of high school. Second, a wing who can shoot, sports a seven foot wingspan, and has some point guard skills is the exact description of the player everyone is looking for these days. Not only is Montero's ceiling super high, it's high in a way that's valued around the league. For a team collecting assets, that's a pretty perfect flyer. Third, the only player I know of that got drafted out of community college is Stephen Jackson. Who wouldn't want a Stephen Jackson with a little less crazy? And I'm guessing a kid from the Dominican Republic in his first year in the US struggled with grades for entirely different reasons. Competitive advantages in international scouting may have dried up but they could still exist in community colleges.
Point is, Luis Montero could be terrible or he could be really, really valuable. I have no idea. But he's exactly the type of high potential player the Blazers should be developing and he would be a perfect D-League stash. I just can't imagine giving up on him after a single pre-season.
The most obvious candidates for being cut are Tim Frazier and Phil Pressey. They not only play the same position but they also play behind the most cemented players on the roster. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum aren't going anywhere and it doesn't make sense to use two roster spots looking for your third string point guard.
Predicting which player will make it between Frazier and Pressey isn't all that critical. Both guys have been poor shooters against NBA level competition. Both are small guards that control the offense with their water-bug penetration and passing. Either guy could develop into a decent backup point guard but that's not something the Blazers need to be concerned about at this point in the rebuild. Choosing wrong between Pressey and Frazier won't affect the team's future in a meaningful way.
The one wildcard is Cliff Alexander. On the surface, he's similar to Luis Montero. He only started playing basketball in eighth grade. He's super young and crazy long. The problem is, if his scouting reports are accurate, he doesn't have a very high ceiling. The best thing I've heard about him skill-wise is that while his jump shot doesn't go in much his form is good. Even for a center that's a pretty low starting point. Energy bigs have a place in this league but they're not going to change the course of a franchise. And they're not someone you risk a locker room for.
I don't presume to know anything about what it's like to grow up as a five star recruit with a difficult home life. I think the NCAA is a bureaucratic, exploitative, and hypocritical organization where the only thing amateur is that the players don't get paid. And my perception is that impermissible benefits to players has become so widespread that it's basically a meaningless phrase. So I will not be surprised if Alexander's NCAA ineligibility indicates nothing about his character or what he's like in the locker room.
However, if it's true that "90 percent of the reason he did not get drafted is not about basketball", as his high school coach stated in the Chicago Tribune, then non-basketball reasons could also be why he gets cut. I haven't seen the current Portland front office flirt with bad character guys so this is the only scenario I see where the team would keep both Frazier and Pressey and cut someone else.
And that's assuming Olshey doesn't add any more guys.