As was reported by Yahoo! Sports earlier this week, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally let go of Anthony Bennett, the 2013 draft's number one overall pick. Bennett was acquired by Minnesota from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a trade last summer that sent All Star forward Kevin Love to Cleveland and netted the Timberwolves 2014 number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
Portland is one of three teams that can claim Bennett off waivers before he becomes a free agent on Friday. The Utah Jazz would need to clear roster space by waiving players with non-guaranteed contracts and the Philadelphia 76ers could claim Bennett and absorb his salary into their available cap space. Any of these teams that does claim Bennett off waivers would owe him $5.8 million for the upcoming season and would have to decide on next season's team option (worth upwards of $7 million) by October 31. However, if he goes unclaimed past Friday's deadline, Bennett would become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team that can afford him (not just the three aforementioned teams).
The Blazer's Edge staff takes a look at whether Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey should pursue Bennett after he clears waivers on Friday.
Peter Sampson | @PeterSampson
If he clears waivers? Sure, why not? A lot of people are concerned about him taking Noah Vonleh's developmental minutes, but I only think that happens if he really starts performing, in which case you can say "Boy, we really have something here." Especially on what would likely be a cheap contract with some team options.
If he doesn't outperform Vonleh, he's still a (presumably) cheap young big with some experience at the end of the bench, or even in the D-League.
I assume that Cliff Alexander would be waived to make room for Bennett. I would have loved to see what Alexander could have done in a Blazer uniform, but I think you've got to roll the dice that [assistant coaches Jay] Triano and [David] Vanterpool can make something out of Bennett.
Ryan A. Chase
Kicking the tires of the former number one overall pick is not a bad idea for Neil Olshey in theory. Bennett was always projected as a project player, and should have never been picked in the top ten, let alone first. Spending his first two seasons out of shape definitely did not help matters. Motivation seems to be the key factor, and the team that gets him in the gym and improving the skill set he showed in college will get a potentially powerful bench asset.
The argument against for Portland comes from the Blazers' immense cap room entering the year. The team will be able to devour some contracts as the season progresses in exchange for picking up a draft pick or two each time. Even if Portland is only able to stockpile second round picks, an asset is an asset. Spending $7.2 million on a project with motivation problems on a team that is not expected to compete for a playoff spot seems like a bad formula.
I think Portland has to pass on Bennett and let him sign with Toronto later this season.
Timmay! | @BedgeTimmay
Sure. Well, as long as he's cheap and Blazers assistant coach Jay Triano is in favor of it. I'm not excited about the transaction, which is an ominous sign for a recent #1 overall pick. But regardless of that mistaken reach by Cleveland, Bennett was widely seen as a top-10 caliber talent, and he's still young. He's also worked through some medical issues (such as asthma and vision problems) that might have delayed his growth as a player.
This is really about Neil Olshey's goals. The team seems to be structured to lose for a few seasons while evaluating a bunch of young talent with favorable contracts. Barring lucking into a generational draft pick, if Portland is going to succeed long-term, they need some of this overlooked talent to perform far beyond expectations. So Olshey needs to make a value decision: Is Bennett more likely to outperform compared to the guys at the end of the bench? I can't blame Olshey for saying yes, and taking a risk on Bennett, who seems to have connected with Triano while playing for Team Canada.
There is very reasonable concern that Portland already has too many power forwards. However, this may not be about game minutes; instead, it may be about the best developmental environment. Meyers Leonard was slowly developed by the coaches in practice over multiple seasons; this could easily be the goal here too. Two years ago, Joel Freeland's development pushed Meyers Leonard unexpectedly to the bench; Anthony Bennett can get the opportunity to do the same to Noah Vonleh. This may cause a visceral reaction to some readers, and understandably so. But really: If Bennett outperforms Vonleh, then he deserves those minutes. Either something went really right, or really wrong. Either way, it would give Vonleh a reason to work harder in practice.
For fans, there is entertainment value. The rumors about the PF competition in training camp will be intense. And each preseason game will give hints about which players are winning the battle for minutes. Plus, it would be entertaining to see Bennett play alongside C.J. McCollum, who was chosen by Portland nine picks later. At the moment, I'm not sure any NBA team would take Bennett over McCollum. Bennett will have a chance to change that perception somewhere in the league. I'm ok if that location is Portland. But based on his history, I wouldn't pencil him into the rotation.
Sagar Trika | @BlazersBySagar
Arguments can be made both for and against Portland signing Bennett to a deal. The primary argument against signing him is the logjam Bennett would theoretically create in the front court (if there isn't one already), and that's a legitimate concern. I think it's fair to say that Olshey doesn't want someone primarily considered a "bust" taking away valuable minutes and in-game experience from the prized acquisition in a trade that shipped out a former starter (Nicolas Batum): Noah Vonleh.
So why might Olshey take a gamble on Bennett? He's cheap and young. He has potential, and when a franchise is undergoing an overhaul as large as the one Portland is currently navigating, that's what many acquisitions have to be based on: how good can that player be two or three years from now and is that potential worth spending time and money on? It's what I imagine was the rationale behind the Phil Pressey and Cliff Alexander signings, and I don't think any positional logjam should change that mentality.
I find it hard to believe any NBA team would give Bennett a deal as generous as his rookie contract should he clear waivers. If I had to speculate, I would imagine he'd sign somewhere (maybe Portland?) on a $2 or $3 million per year contract. With the cap set to spike so high next summer, I wouldn't be opposed to giving him a two or three year deal at that rate with team options or partial guarantees on the second and third years.
David MacKay | @DavidMacKayNBA
No. The intrigue with Bennett stems from his "Former No. 1 pick" label, otherwise we would not be having this conversation, but let us step back and examine the actual value of that novelty before we look at what he can or cannot offer on the court. Most viewers were appropriately bewildered when Bennett’s name was called first on draft night 2013, as Bennett projected no higher than eighth prior to selection. For some frame of reference, in 2014, that was the difference between Andrew Wiggins (burgeoning star) and Nik Stauskas (later packaged in a salary dump to the 76ers for the rights to a second rounder), so already we can see that the Bennett was probably not supposed to be the instant star that he unsurprisingly never became.
Further devaluing that No. 1 pick label is the anemia of the 2013 draft class itself. Take a moment to realize that some analysts rationally penciled in Alex Len at the No. 1 spot and nobody lost their mind. No player entering the league that year had the outlook of a superstar. So if we consider that Bennett would have been more suitably selected in the 8-10 range among players that would likely drop 5-10 spots in most other draft classes, we can establish his actual value closer to that of a mid-first rounder in the "may or may not pan out" zone. Thus far, Bennett has been a disappointment, even given these tempered expectations.
Bennett does virtually nothing well at the NBA level. His shooting is abysmal as a direct result of poor decision making and low basketball IQ; his defense is mostly feigned and listless; his work ethic is as questionable as the fitness level it begets. Even if he clears waivers and the Trail Blazers can sign him for pennies on the… penny, they are packed with players that have more potential at power forward. Since Bennett is a single-position player, I would much rather the Trail Blazers save their cap space to absorb contracts and accrue future draft picks than spend money on a project that they cannot dedicate proper time to working on. Sure, he fits Olshey’s "young players that align with Lillard’s career arc" model, but I do not see him fulfilling his potential in the long term. He gets a hard pass from me.
Do you think GM Neil Olshey should target Bennett as a potential fit if he clears waivers or do you think he isn't worth Portland's time and energy? Vote in the poll, and continue the ongoing discussion in the comments.