Today's Blazer's Edge Mailbag is appropriately centered around the Portland Trail Blazers' free agency experience so far. Have a look.
Help me out. What's the plan? I don't see what Neil Olshey is doing here other than a bunch of free agents running away from us. This has been disappointing but even more confusing. Can you please make sense of it for me.
Let's be honest here. The plan, if possible, was Hassan Whiteside or--failing that--Dwight Howard. When those players went elsewhere the plan became Chandler Parsons. When he went elsewhere the Blazers snagged Evan Turner and then chased Pau Gasol. When he went elsewhere it looked like Zaza Pachulia was in the cards. When HE went elsewhere, well...if you want to say there's still a plan, you're a braver man than I.
Right now the plan looks like re-signing any or all of the restricted free agents that the Blazers think can produce. They can still take a swing at another free agent over the next couple days and they can fish in trade waters, but (barring a CJ McCollum trade) it doesn't look like the revolutionary frontcourt player that everyone was hoping for will be coming Portland's way.
The new plan: Forget about trying to find the guy who will take you from 44 to 54 wins next year and start generating traction for the future.
The Blazers lack trade assets. Once they extend McCollum next year the Blazers will also lack cap space...not that their cap space this summer is getting them very far. They don't have significant draft picks on the horizon. The mass exodus of 2015 left the cupboard--or at least the disposable part of the cupboard--bare and it hasn't been filled again. With the usual means to fill it (draft, trade, cap space) lacking, the Blazers have to concentrate on finding more diamonds in the rough they can develop into assets...partly to keep but partly to generate interest on the trade market. They're going to need to buy low and sell high on a player or two in order to recapture forward momentum.
Piece of Good News #1: Maybe they already have someone like that in the fold...Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless, Noah Vonleh.
Piece of Good News #2: This is one of the things Neil Olshey does well.
Even as we say that, we have to admit that acquiring Evan Turner at $17.5 million per year doesn't really fit in with this scheme. He's a good player but he's not going to take the Blazers over the top. He's 27 and is not likely to make an exponential leap forward in production or value. And speaking of value, the Blazers are probably paying him the maximum he's going to be worth. This isn't anywhere close to buying low, developing players, and selling high. It feels more like the Arron Afflalo deal where the Blazers zigged when they should have zagged, losing a draft pick (representing a young, cheap asset that they could use right now) for a player that didn't end up helping a team that didn't end up needing him anyway.
As often happens, the Blazers appear to be dabbling in a couple of disparate ways forward, committing to neither and (if history holds) following through fully on neither. Portland's lack of a clear future path, lack of assets to ensure same, and historical lack of success likely influenced the choices of some of the upper-echelon free agents the Blazers were chasing this summer. They had better, surer options. They took them too.
Nor is this new. The Blazers have been battling this for years. Recall Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes, and Greg Monroe. Portland wanted all of them. They desperately needed to bolster the lineup to put them in contention in the case of Hibbert and Hawes. They could have offered Monroe a starting spot and the chance to play next to a couple of hot, young guards. The Blazers hit none of those targets.
Whatever the new "plan" is, Step 1 is defining what the heck they're doing. Step 2 is identifying the players they need to draw in order to make their dream reality. Step 3 is selling those players that coming to Portland is both right and secure. Alternately, Step 3 is convincing opposing GM's to trade Portland those players. Either way, they can't just identify talent, they need to get it in uniform.
Blazers fans' most recent memory prior to this week was one of success: making the second round of the playoffs unexpectedly. The league and its players are not comprised of Blazers fans. They not only underline the "unexpectedly" part of Portland's recent achievements, they remember LaMarcus Aldridge and a bunch of veterans walking away from this team...players of the exact type the Blazers were trying to lure this week. They also see the glowing success of teams like Golden State and San Antonio, the long-term achievements of Atlanta and (sigh) even Memphis. If they prefer an up-and-coming team with a clear vision and good coaching they can look at Boston. The Blazers have GOT to distinguish themselves from other teams and generate enough raw material to power their promise. Otherwise we're going to experience more summers like this.
Portland probably can't earn their way into credibility with a single move. We're all holding out hope for the miracle trade but it's unlikely. The Blazers need to establish a clear pattern of moves to push them forward in sustainable fashion, not just red-lining the RPM's in order to achieve wins but putting enough in the tank that outside observers perceive horsepower to spare and a road map that leads somewhere worthwhile.
Those things haven't happened yet. Until they do, "the plan" will be sold as staying the course. Looking at the players Portland has been linked with over the last few days, that wasn't the original idea. Right now it's really all they have to offer, so it'll have to do.
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