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Portland Trail Blazers Free Agency Includes Plenty of “Lucky Misses”

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A Blazer’s Edge reader points out that even though Portland’s performance in free agency is maligned, not signing players can be a good thing.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers can’t sign free agents. That mantra has been repeated in recent years throughout the NBA, from the water cooler of the casual fan to the vaunted halls of professional media, even upon occasion from Portland’s front office itself. But is missing out on free agents always a bad thing? In today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag, an astute reader points out that the Blazers might actually have benefited from their plans falling through.

Hey Dave,

In the spirit of Eric Griffith's recent article on the reality of Blazers' free agency, it'd be interesting if you all examined the increasing number of guys they're lucky to have just missed out on:

Hedo Turkoglu

Roy Hibbert

Spencer Hawes

Chandler Parsons

Am I missing anyone?

What do these near signings say about Olshey (I know Hedo was before his time)? How close was Olshey to actually signing these guys? How would things have turned out different if they came to Portland?... for the Blazers and the players in question.

Thanks,

Evan aka So Swanigan

Even among the players you mention, we need to separate out a couple.

Turkoglu pre-dated Neil Olshey by a few years. Portland’s dalliance with him came in 2009, right in the middle of Kevin Pritchard’s tenure. He never returned to the statistical heights of his years with the Orlando Magic years he remained a serviceable three-point shooter through most of his career and would have given the Blazers a multi-faceted, veteran option on offense. Given his subsequent injuries, I guess you could say the Blazers dodged a bullet with him, but it wasn’t exactly Matrix-style. More like it would have hit them in the flak jacket anyway.

Hibbert doesn’t really belong with the others because he was a restricted free agent when the Blazers courted him. That casts a long shadow over the proceedings. Reportedly interest was real on both sides but Hibbert also needed Portland’s offer as leverage. Neither he nor the Blazers had to face the ultimate question; control was always in the hands of the Pacers. This is exactly why teams avoid chasing restricted free agents, thinning out the field of suitors. It wasn’t a good test case.

That said, two major questions surrounded Hibbert at the time: commitment and conditioning. He didn’t really pass either and the game subsequently passed him by. The best you can say about him is that he became more efficient offensively as his role and place on the floor constricted. But a part-time, increasingly lethargic player isn’t what the Blazers were looking for when they made him an offer. Him returning to Indiana ended up good for Portland.

That leaves Hawes and Parsons. Hawes made sense in the summer of 2014. He took 35% of his shots beyond the arc the year prior, hitting 42% of them, and was signed for a mid-level exception. The Blazers were in the heart of the LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez era. A reserve big man spreading the floor deep would have given them a new wrinkle. Instead Hawes ended up little-used and mismatched with the Clippers and Hornets. Perhaps he’ll catch on again with the Bucks. Parsons has the attraction of being young, versatile, and a three-point threat. Injuries have put the kibosh on any demonstrations of dominance. Making $24 million per year isn’t helping his case. Neither would have been horrible prospects, but neither would have helped that much...at least not so far.

You can see why all of these players made sense for the Blazers, though in some cases only marginally. Nevertheless you’re absolutely correct that, in hindsight, missing out on these guys turned out more, “Whew!” than, “Awwww.”

This demonstrates a dirty secret of the NBA: free agency can be as much of a crap shoot as the draft when you’re playing in the mid-level. That should be acknowledged. Other franchises could also sing that song. In isolation, these missed signing don’t mean much.

But these misses are combined with unfortunate signings, overpaying, and an apparent inability to get serious interviews with major free agents even with cash in hand and a supposedly “up and coming” talent roster in tow. That overall story is far more telling than the performance of your average Turkoglu or Parsons.

This isn’t a feel-good contest; it’s professional sports. Franchises aren’t graded in the abstract, but by how they do versus the competition. Other teams are far more successful courting and signing free agents than the Blazers are. Other teams are totaling significantly more wins than Portland and making faster forward progress. As your “lucky misses” list shows, even had everything gone ideally for the Blazers, their situation wouldn’t have changed much ultimately. Even with Hibbert and Parsons on board, they’d be stuck in the same ultra-expensive mediocrity in which they’re currently enmeshed. That’s a far more disturbing issue than missing out on a player or two.

It’s hard to build a team through the draft alone without taking the Sixers route and tanking hard...a clear impossibility now that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are entering the prime of their careers. It’s hard to execute trades without a set of fairly-talented, fairly-priced players on the roster (or at least cap space). Drafting their starting guards was an amazing beginning to a new era. Right now lack of success in free agency is slowing down the Blazers as they build on their initial moves. The issue bears watching.

If you can think of any “lucky misses” that Evan missed, list them in the comments. And if you have questions for the Mailbag, send them to blazersub@gmail.com.

—Dave @blazersedge / @davedeckard / blazersub@gmail.com