The Portland Trail Blazers have made little noise this offseason. Their biggest move has been dumping Allen Crabbe and the $56 million remaining on his contract to the Brooklyn Nets for Andrew Nicholson.
While all of the pertinent details of the trade can be found in Eric Griffith’s summary, it doesn’t take a brilliant basketball mind to see that this was a good decision. Any time a non-contending team has a chance to move a 10-point per game scorer in exchange for a $40 million reduction in their luxury tax bill, well, that’s a no-brainer.
But as much as Crabbe disappointed — disappearing for multi-game stretches, not being able to get his own shot, and struggling on the defensive end — the Blazers are going to miss his 3-point shooting.
Now that Crabbe is out of the picture, Portland doesn’t really have another consistent deep threat on the roster, outside of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. With Lillard and McCollum dominating ball-handling duties for the team, the Blazers will desperately need someone to step up and be the team’s release valve from long distance.
Maurice Harkless and Evan Turner will do a fine job of filling in Crabbe’s minutes, and may even play more consistently, but neither of them are true threats from beyond the arc. Harkless shot a career-high 35 percent from distance last season, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can sustain that level. Turner, on the other hand, is abysmal from deep, shooting below 30 percent for his career.
Now, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom. Harkless is a great finisher and Turner can definitely get his own look pretty much at will. But neither player can be trusted to knock down a jumper from the wing with three seconds left on the shot clock. Harkless could become that guy, but he’s not there yet. Turner, on the other hand, even at his most effective, is a bit more plodding; needing time to work his way into the paint with the ball in his hands.
It’s also feasible that someone like Pat Connaughton, assuming he’s still on the roster, or Jake Layman can step up and show that they can hit the 3-ball consistently. Connaughton has shown more touch from the outside, but is not a sure thing to make the roster, based on his contract status. Layman has supposedly been putting up a thousand outside shots per day. Hopefully that will start bearing fruit soon.
So, all that being said, if President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been eyeing this move for a while, and I suspect he has been — Why draft Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan?
I don’t have problems with either player. I see Collins’ potential and I believe that Swanigan is going to force his way into the rotation to some degree just based on his motor, despite physical limitations. But there were ample shooters left on the board, such as Donovan Mitchell and Justin Jackson, when Olshey made his picks. It stands to reason that, given the team’s attempts to shed salary, they may want to look to replace Crabbe’s production at a fraction of the cost.
Of course, it’s possible that Olshey saw too many holes on the roster and decided to take a shot at improving the front court in the draft by grabbing the best player available, and then using the taxpayer MLE to supplement the team’s 3-point shooting. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton joined me on last week’s episode of Blazer’s Edge Radio and he said that he expected the team to look to replace Crabbe’s production with a wing around the veteran’s minimum — again looking to get “70 percent of the production at 10 percent of the cost.”
So while the Crabbe trade was clearly a good financial move for the Blazers, and I’m shocked that Olshey was able to shed his contract without attaching a pick, Portland will need to find a way to replicate his shooting from the outside. Even though he was a low-volume shooter, Crabbe could punish opponents if left open, and always had to be accounted for. The Blazers, as currently constructed, don’t have an obvious guy to step up and fill that role.