clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why Blazers Free Agents No Longer Have to be on Lillard's Timeline

New, comments

Why fitting into Damian Lillard's age bracket is no longer the prime requisite of any free agent signing for the Trail Blazers this summer.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Today's Blazer's Edge Mailbag covers Damian Lillard's "timeline" and yesterday's contract extension agreement between the Portland Trail Blazers and Head Coach Terry Stotts. If you have Blazers-related questions, send them to blazersub@gmail.com! The inbox is filling up but there's always room for more.

Dear Dave,

Almost every big free agent mentioned in connection with Portland doesn't work because of the same reason, they're old. Horford is 30. Howard is 30. I saw somebody mention Pau Gasol. Isn't he 40? They're not on Lillard's timeline. Whitseide is the only guy that's the right age. And Bismack but I don't want him. Before we get excited we need to see that age cuts the choices down big time.

Caleb

You're pretty much correct on the ages, though maybe a tad harsh on Gasol. Here's the good news: "fitting Lillard's timeline" is SO last year's thinking. Maybe not entirely, but it was certainly more prominent and necessary then than it is now.

In the Summer of 2015 the Blazers basically started from scratch except for Damian Lillard. We knew CJ McCollum would ride alongside, but the rest of the roster was in transition. The Blazers needed live bodies and more talent at every position except point guard. Under those conditions, mating incoming players to the Lillard-McCollum timeline was a must. Why pair 30-year-olds with guys who were 24-25 with so little hope of immediate success? Even if the team gelled and got good, the veterans would be fading just as the young guards were entering their prime, necessitating another reboot. Chances were they wouldn't be that good anyway. It was time to speculate, signing scads of cheap, young players and hoping some would pan out to form a reasonable core.

Because of their rapid ascent, the Blazers will be in a different position in the Summer of 2016.

1. They already have young players at every position, some of whom they might even be able to count on. They don't need to get, or stay younger anymore.

2. Lillard and McCollum have shown that they can produce and that they're worth building a team around. This shifts the focus from compatibility by age (because who really knows who we'll build around) to compatibility by skill set (because we have at least 2/5 of the core in hand).

3. The Blazers aren't starting from a bare foundation this summer. The house isn't complete but they have a couple walls built. The most important asset of incoming free agents isn't that they might be able to create some kind of wall one day, but that they are able to provide a third and fourth wall today. This summer isn't just about maybe winning in 2020. It's about definitely winning in 2017 and 2018, building on momentum and keeping budding stars engaged as they grow so their next free agency decision doesn't result in LaMarcus Aldridge, Part II.

4. 30-year-olds aging out of the roster in three years won't be a huge problem if the Blazers believe in the young guys they retain this summer. The 20-somethings get a couple more years to incubate before having the weight of the team thrust upon them. They'll be in a better position to pick up responsibility as those veterans age than they are right now. Meanwhile the veterans aren't forced to play 40 minutes per game to keep the team afloat. They know they'll have capable backups.

5. Portland's post-season performance this year might be enough to get them sit downs with free agents they couldn't touch last summer. There's no guarantee that'll happen again. (See also: 2014 Trail Blazers vs. 2015 Trail Blazers.) If they're going to bat eyelashes at Mr. Big, they might as well do it while they're still dressed up. That means going after quality free agents right now, regardless of age. If the Blazers win with those veterans, more will consider coming later. If the Blazers pass over those veterans and don't progress as a result, they won't be able to lure tomorrow's free agents when the time comes.

If you believe in Portland's surprising accomplishments this year, the time to think like a rebuilding team is ending; the time to think like a team shooting for contention is here. If you don't believe the Blazers can repeat their performance, the need to strike while the iron is hot becomes urgent. Either way, that puts a premium on this summer that overrides chronological niceties. (Plus remember Portland's cap space isn't hanging around forever.)

Hassan Whiteside is a perfectly valid target for the Blazers under any condition. Under these conditions, Al Horford or Dwight Howard are also valid. That's not saying the three are equally desirable, rather that age is no longer a strong prerequisite for desirability.

P.S. This also applies to any trades the Blazers make. Portland can now afford to trade younger players for older if the incoming player makes sense in other ways.

Dave,

Hot take!  Signing Terry Stotts to a 3 year contract wasn't enough. Why didn't the Blazers go longer?

Glen

According to reports they're also picking up the option year on his current contract, which makes 4 years total. Only 4 current NBA head coaches have a tenure of longer than 4 years. In the coaching world, a quadrennium is a long time.

I'm not sure the Blazers would want to lock in Stotts into a radically different framework than Neil Olshey either. If the Blazers lose Olshey after his contract is up, having Stotts guaranteed for several years more would make for an awkward situation with the new GM. I'm not saying the contracts are concurrent, just that having them radically misaligned isn't smart.

You also might want to consider that a shorter tenure could be to Stotts' advantage. He's done well in Portland and is regarded as one of the better coaches in the league now. When your earning power is high, you don't want to lock in at a rate that's anything less than extraordinary.

Stotts' extension has been reported between $5-5.5 million per year.

That's plenty of cheddar, but still not the biggest wheel of cheese in the league.

I'm not sure the Blazers or any team would have given Stotts a longer contract, but even if they would have, he wouldn't necessarily benefit. Even if the team stalls over the next 4 years, he's almost certainly earned another chance at coaching after he and the Blazers part ways. The next contract he signs will make up most or all of the $10-11 million he would have earned with an extra 2 years on this extension. If the Blazers excel over the next 4 years, Stotts stands to make even more. There wouldn't be much financial upside to signing for longer but there could be a huge downside.

But again, seeing any team agree to a 6-year coaching commitment in today's environment would be extraordinary. I suspect Stotts got the longest practical contract available.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge