Time for another Blazer's Edge Mailbag question, As always, send your Portland Trail Blazers related queries to firstname.lastname@example.org to get them answered here or through one of our other outlets.
Dear Grand Poobah of BE,
We know Dame and CJ are great, but they aren't necessarily super-duper-stars. By this time next year, both are likely going to be max contract Trail Blazers. And now behind those two the team has, locked into fairly large, multi-year contracts, this list of guys: Crabbe, Leonard, Turner, Aminu (Harkless status unknown at time of writing). So that's the core of the team, locked in for the next few years unless Olshey swings a trade or two. And the supporting cast aren't necessarily marquee names. So I have a simple question: are we capped out for the next 3-4 years with relatively mediocre talent (given that the aim is to become a contender), or is this a team to be really excited about?
Right now, I'm pretty excited, but to be honest there's a lot of hope riding on these guys' development.
Of course the elephant in the room is the trade. But this just means rephrasing the same question: are these guys good trade pieces that could actually return, say, a Boogie...or are we overvaluing them?
I always thought Grand Poobah was overdoing it. Your Exalted Highness will work fine.
We'll talk about this more as the summer goes by, but your basic construct illustrates Portland's reality fairly well. They have plenty of pieces, as they should. If Neil Olshey couldn't swing big-name talent in this free agency period at least he needed to retain or accumulate enough players to keep chips on the table during future trade talks. You've already identified the reason talent flexibility is replacing the former mantra of "cap flexibility". Combined with Damian Lillard's mega-deal, CJ McCollum's impending $62 bazillion contract extension is going to destroy Portland's chances to see the low side of the cap line for the next five years. Olshey had to spend his money before that extension came due. He did. The hodgepodge you see in front of you is the result...but maybe not the final result.
The Blazers could head down any of three paths from here.
1. Talent development and chemistry could cement the roster into place, give or take a minor trade. Last year's second-round playoff tour might give way to Conference Finals appearances. Another 2-3 years of experience, an injury or two to Golden State, and who knows what could happen?
2. Internal development might not be enough to carry the Blazers, but they might take a couple seasons to figure that out. Down the road when they become seriously interested in trades, they'll have surplus players still in their primes to offer. While the Warriors romp over the conference with their super-team over the next two years, the Blazers will lay low, seeing what they've got and what they still need. They'll strike on the trade market when the time is right.
3. Signing and re-signing a surfeit of guards might open up an immediate trade possibility. Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner can score. Turner also handles the ball. Both play shooting guard. Guess who that makes more expendable? The answer just happens to be the one player outside of Damian Lillard with significant trade value.
I do not believe the Blazers intend to move CJ McCollum. That said, if you blanked out franchise and player names and set a piece of paper in front of us with Portland's summer transactions upon them, most everybody in the room would guess the valuable incumbent shooting guard was headed for the trading block. It's not the most likely move (personally I'd guess Meyers Leonard would be traded before McCollum) but it's the move most likely to transform the team instantly after the sad trombone sounded on chasing high-level free agents.
Here's the thing. I'm not sure if the Blazers themselves know which of these paths they're headed towards. Likely they're asking many of the same questions you are regarding player utility and trade value. I'm assuming they'd be more comfortable making trades a year or two down the line than they are now, but that's not a lock. If the right opportunity came around, they might surprise even themselves.
Getting DeMarcus Cousins for anything short of Damian Lillard would be a minor miracle. I'm not sure Olshey can even pick up the phone to Sacramento if McCollum is the best he has to offer. But plenty of more modest big men could help the lineup. If the Blazers can get a couple of their young players to blossom between now and 2018, they might be able to pull off a non-Boogie move that would pay dividends without breaking up their coveted backcourt.
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