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Veterans the Trail Blazers Could Pick Up on the Cheap

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Portland has wiggle room to add a veteran player if they cut Pat Connaughton. Who could they get? Would it make any difference?

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

So far the Portland Trail Blazers have gone nowhere in the 2017 NBA Free Agency period. Given their salary cap situation, this is not unexpected. Blazers fans are antsy for a trade or signing nonetheless. That’s the subject of a pair of questions today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dear Dave,

After watching the summer league games and the past regular season, it does not seem like Layman or Connaughton are NBA caliber players right now, and probably won't be in the future. In addition, it seems uncertain that Swanigan or Collins will contribute much this season.

Is there any low budget free agents you'd like to see signed with the Blazers cutting Layman or Connaughton?

Here are some players still available that could be had on the cheap (I'm aware they won't really be cheap due to the luxury tax consequences):

Ian Clark; Jonas Jerebko; Thabo Sefolosha; Donatas Motiejunas.

What do you think?

Best,

Trey

First, I wouldn’t be so quick to give up on Jake Layman or Pat Connaughton after just a couple Summer League games. Las Vegas seems like a big milestone each year, but Summer League is only two months removed from the end of the regular season. It’s not like Layman and Connaughton will experience radical changes between May and July. Young, low-level prospects proceed in baby steps. What they were then is what they’ll be now, perhaps with a small wrinkle or two. But the Blazers don’t have to be concerned with what they are in July, 2017. The real question is where these players will be in 2020 and beyond.

Remember that both Layman and Connaughton inhabit the 11th-15th spots on the roster. Filling those positions with low-ceiling players isn’t a great idea, even if those players can theoretically contribute better than untried youngsters. What good will a mediocre veteran do if he never sees the court anyway? Ideally those slots will be populated by less-experienced players who have a chance to grow into something more.

Connaughton and Layman fit that bill. They’re certainly worth less right now than any of the players you named. There’s a good possibility that neither of them will be in the league five years from now. But there’s also a possibility that they surprise us because they’re smart, they can shoot, and they’re athletic. I’ll take a 1 in 100 shot at an eventual B+ player in my street-clothes spots quicker than I’ll take the certainty of a C- vet.

If the team were in serious contention or defending a championship, this would not hold true...or at least not quite as much. At that point you worry about plugging holes for 3-4 weeks in case of injury to one of the upper-rotation players. Not doing so could cost a title. Portland’s not in that situation, nor would acquiring any of those players put them into the upper reaches of the conference.

You mentioned the luxury tax, but I would note that it doesn’t come into play strongly in this situation. The Blazers have $1.5 million to play with if they cut Connaughton. They’re already committed to that amount if they keep Pat, an obligation they get out of if they release him because his contract is non-guaranteed. The extra cost of any additional player would be the new salary minus his. That’s already a small amount, even with experienced players. Stretching the $1 million owed Festus Ezeli on Sunday created enough extra space to make the difference between Connaughton’s salary and a minimum-salary veteran a wash.

Moving to your specific suggestions, had you asked me this question four years ago I would have taken Sefolosha or Jerebko. Their tenures in Oklahoma City and Detroit recommended them. That ship has sailed. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Thabo but he’s winding down, not gearing up. Jerebko has gotten worse over the last two years as his team has gotten better. I’ll pass.

Of the remaining two, I’ll take Clark over Motiejunas because he can hit a three. But if Clark is playing something went really wrong with Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner. Similarly, if the Blazers need Motiejunas, Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan aren’t amounting to much.

That’s what I mean about on-boarding this kind of player. Personally I’d rather keep Connaughton and Layman practicing while biding my time for next year’s first-round pick to fill that roster spot.

Dear Dave,

My poor Blazers can't do anything this summer. If Monta Ellis gets a buyout, is there any way we could obtain him? I wouldn't mind seeing him as a backup SG, should we somehow manage to trade Crabbe. I know, I know - no one will take Crabbe. But I can dream (Come on Nets).

Draven

The Blazers could sign him, but that dream might turn into a nightmare. The last two years in Indiana Ellis’ production dropped with all the grace of a hippopotamus in orbital reentry. Some will claim that’s because he hit age 30. I’d cite another reason: for the eight seasons prior he averaged at least 15 shot attempts per game and produced between 18-20 points. The instant the Pacers used him more like a role-player than a star, the hippo hit the turf. His per-minute and per-possession scoring numbers are half of what they were three years ago. He’s made gains defensively but they aren’t near enough to offset his non-production.

If you’re not letting Monta Ellis rattle off shots, there’s no reason to have him on your team. Indiana didn’t let him. The Blazers wouldn’t either, particularly since his three-point percentage hovers around 32%. If you didn’t like Al-Farouq Aminu at 33% from the arc last year, you really won’t like Ellis there.

In order to make Monta relevant again, the Blazers would need to give him all the shots that Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless are taking now, likely by trading away both. The cap savings would be significant, provided Portland didn’t take back any salary in return. That would recommend the move, but that’s where it ends. Crabbe and Harkless both shoot more efficiently than Ellis plus their games are more well-rounded. The Blazers would end up behind in just about every category, including offense. Unless you stick to the salary ledger, this is a bad deal for Portland.

If the Blazers find success with an inexpensive veteran, it’ll likely be in the wake of a trade leaving a roster spot open and a hole in the rotation. In that case, some of the players Trey and Draven mentioned might make sense. As it stands, cutting Connaughton for any of them might bring a small bump, but the roster is too crowded with mediocre players already for such a move to make a huge difference. Adding a player without something for them to do doesn’t make much sense. A deep .500 team looks like same as a shallower .500 team, just without as much promise percolating in the back ranks.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com and stay tuned for all the discussion and coverage surrounding Game 3 of Portland’s 2017 NBA Summer League journey today!

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard