With Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe now officially coming back, and only Maurice Harkless remaining as an unknown, Portland GM Neil Olshey has had a solid, if unspectacular offseason. The team didn't land a star, but is undoubtedly deeper than it was last season. In fact, as the lineup currently stands, the Blazers will be log-jammed at several positions.
First of all, I want to say that I'm glad Meyers Leonard is coming back to Portland. I'm a believer in Leonard's skillset and firmly believe in his ability to produce, especially on that contract. Plus he just seems like a genuinely good dude. But where is he going to get his minutes? The Blazers presumably signed defensive specialist center Festus Ezeli to be the starter, and incumbent starter Mason Plumlee is still around as well. Plumlee probably shouldn't be starting for an elite team but he is, at worst, one of the best backup centers in the NBA.
In an effort to spread the floor, Terry Stotts had Meyers alternate between power forward and center last season. In the eyes of most folks, Leonard has no business trying to guard quicker NBA power forwards. At center, Meyers offers decent rim protection and length to go along with his clear perimeter shot-making ability. Playing the four, Meyers struggles defending the perimeter and limiting his fouls. If Portland's goal is to improve their defense (like the signings of Ezeli and Even Turner indicate), Leonard can't play power forward anymore.
This isn't just an issue of Leonard's challenges on this end. Al-Farouq Aminu, coming off a career year, appears ready to slide over to the starting power forward slot, where he excels as a small-ball stretch four. Even when leaving the currently in-limbo Moe Harkless out of the equation, there aren't enough minutes to go around here either. Ed Davis is one of the more productive backup big men in the league and while he doesn't do anything spectacularly, he is incredibly consistent; something that is highly valued in a reserve player.
Meyers at the four also limits the further development of Noah Vonleh. While he is still further away than many would hope, Vonleh getting a few meaningful minutes per game is critical to his growth as a player. There is only so much improvement that can come from Summer League and practice reps, and Portland is past the days where Vonleh gets 15 minutes per game as a starter.
While things look slightly less cramped on the perimeter, there is likely to be a minutes crunch there as well. Newly acquired Evan Turner, capable of playing shooting guard or small forward, is reportedly going to start at the small forward spot, with the newly wealthy Crabbe capable of playing the same two positions off the bench. Of course, both players bring different skillsets - Crabbe is a highly effective spot-up shooter, a capable midrange scorer who excels with the ball in his hands.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are obviously going to start and continue receiving the bulk of the minutes at both guard spots, with CJ likely continuing to run the point (with Turner possibly handling the ball some) when Lillard sits. Considering their production, it's doubtful that either player's minutes change significantly this season, but after this season, McCollum will be due for a well-deserved max contract, which means the Blazers will have in the vicinity of $80 million tied up in Crabbe, Turner, Lillard, and McCollum in 2017-18. Without even considering ramifications against the cap, highly paid players need minutes, and there just aren't a ton of minutes to go around at this point.
Of course, this kind of depth is one of the better "problems" for an organization to have, for obvious reasons. Players get injured or underperform all the time, and having a quality guy ready to step in at every position is a luxury that not every team has. But the real advantage to having a deep roster full of potential is that it gives Olshey the flexibility to upgrade his roster via consolidation trade.
With Portland unable, as yet, to attract a top-level free agent, the draft and the trade markets are the best ways to upgrade the roster. With Olshey sitting on a stash of good young talent, he has the flexibility to swing for the fences and swap out some of his depth for proven high-level talent. With players such as Davis and Aminu on incredibly team-friendly contracts, and guys like Vonleh and Leonard unlikely to see the minutes in Portland they need in order to reach their potential (at least for next season), Olshey has a lot options here. If Harkless re-signs with Portland for anything but the qualifying offer, this furthers the point.
The obvious question that this raises is "OK, well who do we trade for?" I've seen mentions of DeMarcus Cousins and Jahlil Okafor, and while I'm confident that Portland has the assets to get either deal done (if both players are even available, which I'm skeptical of), I'm not sure that even Olshey knows the answer at this point in time. Players can and do become available via trade very quickly, and often with no notice.
Olshey did an admirable job with the cards he was dealt this offseason. While I still question the value of the Turner signing, he, in conjunction with Ezeli, Crabbe, and Leonard, give the Blazers flexibility going forward. Not only are the Blazers a better team on paper, but Portland is in prime position to trade for a third star player in the next 9-12 months. Admittedly, it may not pan out; a player who would fit a need may not even hit the trade market. But short of Portland suddenly becoming a hotbed for free agency, this is the best way for the Blazers to take the next step.