By drafting Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey made it clear that reinforcing the Blazers’ frontcourt depth is a top priority this offseason. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Portland lacked depth at power forward and center last season, a far cry from last summer’s proclamations that the team had too many big men.
However, I think the selections of Collins and Swanigan indicate something else—moving Allen Crabbe and/or Evan Turner isn’t one of Olshey’s top priorities, contrary to popular opinion.
While there has been talk for several months of Olshey inevitably offloading Crabbe or Turner, I’m not sure that there is much of a market for either player. According to Zach Lowe, the Los Angeles Lakers offered a first round pick to any team with cap room to take on one of the Timofey Mozgov/Luol Deng contracts. Finding no takers, they ultimately had to attach 2015 No. 2 overall draft pick D’Angelo Russell to Mozgov in order to find a taker. To say this is a bad sign for Portland is an understatement, and lends a little more insight into the draft night additions of Swanigan and Collins.
While Olshey would likely move Crabbe in all but the most lopsided of trades, and would jump at the chance to deal Turner, the Blazers are likely going to have to pivot and shed salary through more desirable contracts. Whether that’s Maurice Harkless (three-years, $31 million), Al-Farouq Aminu (two-years, $14 million), or Ed Davis (one-year, $6.3 million) remains to be seen. But with Olshey drafting two frontcourt players and having all of the team’s desirable salaries locked up in players that play some variation of minutes at the four or five, the writing is on the wall.
Of course I didn’t mention Meyers Leonard and his three-year, $31 million contract. I firmly believe that a separation is what’s best for both the Leonard and the team, but I don’t see another franchise taking on a center who shoots 38 percent from the floor for $31 million, even if Portland throws in a first round pick.
This is why I don’t believe that Olshey will make the moves that most have anticipated. Aminu and Davis are on team friendly contracts and are well served to bench roles for teams that might fancy themselves a second rate contender. Harkless is an intriguing piece and could bring back another suitable asset, freeing up playing time for Crabbe and Turner at small forward.
Barring a miracle, this team is locked in well over the cap with limited flexibility, and will likely see only minor roster changes. I would be shocked if another team is willing to take on Crabbe or Turner in exchange for a low-cost player of substance. Not to mention Leonard. This means that the Blazers, just as they often have to do in free agency, will have to go to Plan B. In this case Plan B means selectively offering value contracts such as Aminu, Davis, and Harkless for minor cap relief and praying that Collins and Swanigan can contribute immediately.
This sounds dire, and it might be. But just as easily, Collins could be a legit 4/5 option ready to play 25 minutes a night from the get-go, while Swanigan is an instant Zach Randolph-lite. Maybe Paul Allen really doesn’t care about the second-youngest team in the league having a .500 record and the second-highest payroll. I doubt that’s true, but I’ve heard the argument.
The bottom line is that almost none of Portland’s contracts—aside from Lillard, McCollum, and maybe Harkless—have paid off recently, and Olshey is going to have a tough time wiggling the team out from under them.
It may have been 100 degrees in Portland this weekend, but things are just starting to heat up for the Blazers’ front office.