This summer has shaped up to be one of major change for the Portland Trail Blazers. Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, and Wesley Matthews are all gone. Aldridge has not made a decision at the time of this writing, but seemingly has one foot out the door. Whatever the final form of the roster for next season, fans are going to see a drastically different team next year. Portland certainly has several more moves to make before the season begins.
With most of the big name free agents signed, front office focus will soon shift to the next tier of players looking for deals. Let's take a look at where the Trail Blazers roster currently stands and what possible low to mid-level free agents the team could look to add to shore up their roster.
Firstly, the Blazers have seemingly stockpiled young, athletic, big men. Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, and Ed Davis are all power forwards or centers. Rebounding and running seems to be the order of the day for the team. Even newly acquired SF Al-Farouq Aminu is a long, elite rebounder for his position, grabbing 13.8% of all available rebounds in his career. Compare this to triple-double threat Batum, who gathers 9.4% of all rebounds.
But Portland still needs some help from the wings. With multiple scenarios affecting how much salary Portland can offer any free-agents, we'll take a look at reasonably priced free agents that can help the team as currently constructed.
While he doesn't necessarily fit in with a youth oriented rebuild, Phoenix Suns wing Gerald Green could very well fit into the Blazers' roster. A hyper-athletic small forward/shooting guard, Green has evolved to become a 3 point assassin for the Suns, taking 50% of his FG attempts from beyond the arc over the last two seasons, hitting at a 38% clip. With backup guard CJ McCollum showing an increased tendency to drive to the rim when looking for his own shot, having a bench wing like Gerald Green would help protect against opposing wing defenders sliding over to apply extra pressure on McCollum.
At $3.5 million per year over the last three seasons, Green is expected to see a salary bump, though not one that will break the bank. He has expressed interest in returning to Phoenix; however with the Suns shedding salary in order to make room to potentially sign LaMarcus Aldridge, he could possibly be had for the right price.
The Blazers may pursue a backup point guard, with Steve Blake gone in the Mason Plumlee deal, and McCollum yet to prove he can run an offense in consistent minutes. With McCollum likely to get at least spot minutes at PG, Portland will be looking for an affordable 12-15 minute per night guy to hold the fort down while the starters get some rest.
Two players that meet that criteria? Cory Joseph and Jameer Nelson.
Cory Joseph, in particular, would fit well with the Blazers' needs. He's 23 years old, is not turnover prone, and has improved his 3 point shooting every season, up to a respectable 36%. Joseph is adept at getting in the paint and plays within the flow of the offense, actually shooting over 50% from the floor last year, a fantastic number for a point guard. While Tony Parker struggled with injuries this season, Joseph filled in admirably for the Spurs, averaging 13.2 ppg, to go along with 3.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
Joseph made just over $2 million last season and the Spurs will look to retain his services, but if San Antonio has the offseason that they are hoping for, a significant pay raise may land him in another uniform this season. Expect Joseph to receive offers from several teams looking for value PGs this season.
If Corey Joseph is a perfect fit for Portland's young asset acquisition strategy, then Jameer Nelson is the old linen suit you inherited from your grandfather. Nothing about it fits quite right and it wrinkles every time you wear it, but at least you HAVE one, and it beats having to shell out a lot of money.
At 33 years old, Nelson is far removed from his glory days in Orlando, when he was named an All-Star in 2008-09. As he has aged, he has become more and more content to rely on his 3 point shot, taking 51% of his shots from beyond the arc over the last two seasons. Nelson's +/- has slowly drifted into the negative category since that All-Star season, though a portion of it needs to be attributed to playing on some poor teams, as evidenced by his +7.3 in his 23 games with the Dallas Mavericks last season.
Though Nelson tends to be turnover prone, he can provide significant value by providing veteran leadership on a very young bench unit. Nelson made $2.7 million last season, and should not command more than that unless a team gets desperate as the free agent pool dries up throughout July.
Whether optimistic about the team's future or wringing their hands at the uncertainty, Blazer fans know that more change on tap for this summer, with the roster so unbalanced. The key for Neil Olshey is to maintain contract flexibility through what looks to be the beginning of a rebuild.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.