Happy Monday Mailbag! Today's question deals with secondary-level free agents the Portland Trail Blazers might chase this summer. Enjoy!
With this summer promising to be one of the most exciting in recent memory (aren't they all,) seems like the free agency conversation has been focusing only a super or near super stars that the Blazers have relatively small chance of acquiring. Though I'd love to have Whiteside, Holford, or (forgive me) even Howard, so would half the league. If you were NO and had your mind absolutely set on getting a free agent that does not involve Lillard or McCollum, which free agent would be your MOST REALISTIC Plan A target? Plan B?
I've not heard much talk about available players like Ryan Anderson, Marvin Williams, Speights, Mahinmi, and Booker. What is your assessment of how these players may help move our team forward?
Let's look at your opening assertion first. "This summer promises to be one of the most exciting in recent memory (aren't they all)...:" Your first arrow has hit a bullseye without even trying. From the moment Neil Olshey stepped in the door--from his first, fateful declaration about trades and signings that "moved the needle"--Blazers fans have been saying, "This is the year." And then it isn't. Every year we hear about about smart moves and preserving flexibility, on-court play provides some measure of promise, and then next summer it isn't the year again. The justifiable question here is, "Preserving flexibility for what?" At some point a significant, long-term move has to come in order to justify the machinations.
This summer is a likely occasion for such a move. The Blazers will never exceed expectations more than they did last year. As long as they preserve the current roster, the Portland's payroll will never be lower. They'll not have many more chances to create significant cap space. The team has been in similar situations before with few lasting results and zero transformational signings. The pot is on the stove and the water's boiling. If they can't cook something under these conditions, I think we begin to question the viability of the process.
As far as Plan A and Plan B...well, that's just the point. The team isn't in a position to define either. They're not signing a player or making a trade as the final step to a title. They're making that kind of move to propel themselves into contention and set up the final steps. The Plan will unfold after that move and will be largely based on it. Right now there is no Plan A and Plan B. If Plan A fails, Plan B won't be suitable.
The big question: How good will Portland's Plan A swing be? Their starting point will tell us everything. If they make a serious run at Al Horford or (shooting for the moon) try to woo Kevin Durant, you know they're thinking they have a great chance going forward. Even getting meetings with those guys would say good things about the franchise's future. Follow-through is important--you actually have to sign somebody to make it count--but the scope of Plan A shows how big the potential follow-through could pay off.
If the Blazers start with Dwight Howard or someone lower, that also tells a story...this one less promising. If they sign Dwight then maybe they can make the argument that they got their guy. If they fail to do that (or don't even get a swing at a player of that potential) then you know how significant these "plans" are. You won't have to ask whether the Blazers are ready to contend in the free agent market or during the 2016-17 season. Their attempted moves will tell you everything you need to know.
With that in mind, let's go through some of the players you mentioned. None would qualify as a home run, but most could masquerade as Plan B+.
Ryan Anderson would fit the Blazers like a glove. He's 28, plays power forward, and shoots 38% from the three-point arc for his career. He's got the right temperament to meld with the locker room and he knows how to find space on the floor in the offense. He's the opposite of the rim-bound, rebounding forward mold the Blazers pursued last summer. This would be a good thing; they already have a ton of those guys. But Anderson would put extra pressure on Portland's centers and small forwards to rebound and defend around him...pressure they may not be able to compensate for with a backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. I'd anticipate Anderson playing in mix-and-match rotations depending on the other players taking the floor with him. He could start or come off the bench. If he became he primary signing of the summer, playing that role might not be enough. But if the Blazers could find a way to get him plus another player (even if that player were a modest star like Larry Sanders), they'd probably be happy with Anderson. The big concern is that his new salary would price the Blazers out of those other signings.
Marvin Williams is an odd duck. Once known primarily for his athleticism as a small forward, he's developed a three-point shot after a move to power forward the last few seasons. His 40% clip from the arc last season for Charlotte was wholly impressive. After 11 seasons in the league, he's found his role. He would provide an extra wrinkle over Anderson. He can guard both forward shots and score closer to the rim when needed. But he's not the same pure shooter and he's a year older. He should probably go in the same category as Anderson: nice, but not sufficient. Signing Williams wouldn't be a bad move, it just wouldn't be the move. Once again price tag become all-important.
Marreese Speights has transformed his game this year with the Golden State Warriors. He's moved his offense farther afield, shooting a career-high 62 triples and making a career-high 39% of them. His per-minute scoring and rebounding numbers are a strong as ever. Despite that, unless he comes nearly free I want no part of him. He's not in great shape. Despite his bulk he has trouble getting and hitting inside...his two-point field goal percentage is at a career low. He's not a great defender and he's never been that consistent. He averaged only 11.6 minutes per game this season. He might get a couple more than that with the Blazers, but still. The advantage to thinking about Speights is that he might come relatively cheap. If so, no harm trying him out. But he's more of a Plan C than a key cog at this point...one of those signings that makes you say, "Huh. Let's see if this helps...maybe"
Ian Mahinmi is a low-mileage 29-year-old who operates around the basket on offense and is a fine rebounder/defender on the other end. He's played well for the Indiana Pacers the last four seasons, particularly this year. He's coming off career highs in shooting and scoring. He's not a shot blocker, nor is he an offensive juggernaut. Because of those two things he'd leave the Blazers in the same situation they currently endure. They'd need to ask if it was possible to get somebody with a Mahinmi-like effect without paying a full free agent price...or indeed if they already have Mahinmi-like players on the roster without needing another. Mahinmi does what the Blazers already try to do, just marginally better. How big that margin is will determine everything about his value. If they did sign him, I'd expect them to trade away other frontcourt players in conjunction.
Trevor Booker is the only player you named who might be slumping, or at least flat-lined. He's 28 years old, a 6'8" power forward who, despite developing a little bit of a ranged shot the last couple years, makes a living close to the hoop. His best quality is probably offensive rebounding. I prefer 6'10", 27-year-old Ed Davis in that role, so I wouldn't put Booker high on the acquisition list.
Of the five players you mentioned, Anderson is probably the most intriguing. Williams would be a more than acceptable substitute if his price was lower. Those two are side dishes, the other three are varying levels of condiment. All of them could work, but relying on any of them to carry the summer signing season alone would evoke the age-old question, "Where's the Beef?" Absent that balanced main course, potato salad and BBQ sauce aren't going to leave the customer satisfied.
What do you think, Blazer's Edge Readers? Would any of these players float your boat? The comment section awaits. And don't forget to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're looking for questions that can be answered in video and audio formats as well, so don't be shy!