Today's Mailbag covers the newest Portland Trail Blazers acquisition (at the time of writing, anyway), Festus Ezeli.
It's Festus! How do you feel about it? Seems like we got better at a relatively low cost and I cant find much wrong with it but how much better do we get now? Do you buy 54 wins or is it just a solid move?
Festus Ezeli should be a good fit with the Blazers. He brings plenty of rebounding (including offensive). He's good at the rim on defense and he should up their perimeter screen defensive game...something they desperately need. He's strong and has an NBA body and a half. Like most current Portland bigs, his offense is presentable as long as he's glued to the rim, shaky otherwise. But he'll know his role offensively. They're not bringing him in to score 20. The Blazers bolstered what they already had, adding a few wrinkles and another live body.
Hands down the most brilliant part of the deal was getting Ezeli on the cheap. A sub-$8 million per year contract with a team option in the second year is a steal in this environment. It cleverly mitigates faults from the extreme ends of the bell curve. If Ezeli excels he's going to get a new, bigger contract soon. If his knees give out the Blazers aren't stuck with him. There's no huge downside for anyone involved.
In that vein, your analysis is spot on. It's a relatively low-cost move and there's not much wrong with it. Well done.
As for the rhetoric about 54 wins...I suspect that'll be difficult, but fair enough. Predicting wins is difficult. That would certainly mark a significant improvement. If the Blazers make it there because of Ezeli or anyone else, they deserve a pat on the pack.
When considering whether this was THE move or not, or signals a new era in free agency relations, the outlook is more measured. This isn't a new leaf in, or departure from, Portland's free agency plans as much as a continuation of them. It's a bargain signing of a value player who's not likely to transform the team in the same way a premium free agent would. The contract and value are brilliant, the overall signing more pedestrian. That's been Portland's M.O. for years and it continues to be.
Signing Ezeli does not cancel out missing out on the free agent targets that came before him, nor was he Plan A for the off-season. His health is in question (one of the possible reasons the contract number came in low) and it's impossible to project whether he'll be a starter, reserve, or off the team entirely two years from now. This is the type of signing that keeps the wheels greased while you work on other things. Those "other things" will still be key. It'll be interesting to see if the Blazers can manage them without high draft picks or a ton of cap space on the horizon. Keep on the watch for trades...but then again, the cupboard's not exactly bursting there either. The Blazers have serious challenges in front of them if they want to contend. This move did not resolve those challenges.
Signing Festus Ezeli for a modest amount was a brilliant move in isolation, a semi-decent back-up move when the Blazers couldn't get other free agents to accept their offers, but probably not the kind of move that will lift the franchise over the next hurdle. Tactically it was sound. Strategically? We'll have to wait and see how it plays out. It could be the prelude to the next step or it could be an attempted bail-out from a rough free agent situation the Blazers couldn't resolve. If so, that situation is the real issue, not Ezeli's success or failure. There's no downside to signing him, but he doesn't answer the bigger questions either.
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