We’re not quite two full days into the NBA free agency period and the moves are still coming in hot. LeBron James is with the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul George is staying with the Thunder. Aaron Gordon (my dream target for the Blazers) remains in Orlando.
As of the time of this writing, Neil Olshey and the Blazers have made a handful of decisions: renouncing Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton, allowing Ed Davis to sign with the Brooklyn Nets despite his apparent desire to stay with the team, and signing Nik Stauskas to a one-year deal. The team was also linked to free agent Mario Hezonja, who ultimately signed with the New York Knicks.
Ed Davis Signs with Brooklyn
If you needed a clear signal that Blazer fans’ favorite acronym, SPAM, now stands for “save Paul Allen money”, this is it. Ed Davis is, at worst, the second or third best reserve big man in the NBA. Beyond what he provides on the court, Davis was a favorite in the locker room and especially among the fan base. Anecdotally, I personally have five or six friends that own “Property of Ed Davis” shirts.
It’s one thing if Davis leaves for eight or nine million per year, but to not retain him (a player who, again, made it clear he wanted to return) for less than a mid-level exception shows how much of a priority minimizing costs is for this franchise. I almost wonder if Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts aren’t entirely on the same page with Meyers Leonard’s minutes. Despite being productive (relatively speaking) last season in minimal floor time, Stotts has been reluctant to play Leonard more than spot minutes, most coming in blowouts. With a big man rotation of Leonard, Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Georgios Papagiannis and (likely) Jusuf Nurkic, Stotts may have no choice this season.
Nik Stauskas Joins Portland
Nik Stauskas signing with the Blazers on a minimum deal in the opening hours of free agency, just after the Ed Davis news, probably wasn’t a great look. He became a victim of timing.
In a vacuum, this is a fine signing. Taking a vet-minimum flyer on the eighth overall pick from 2014 is a classic Olshey value pick up. The Blazers desperately need outside shooting and Stauskas shot 40 percent from the 3-point line last year. Unfortunately, “Sauce Castillo” has yet to shoot over 39 percent from the field in his career. That’s not great, especially for someone who really can’t do anything but shoot.
If Stauskas takes the back up shooting guard role from Pat Connaughton, he’ll be sharing the court for stretches with Al-Farouq Aminu, who has also failed to reach 40 percent from the floor in the last two seasons. That doesn’t exactly scream “offensive threat”. But Stauskas makes the league minimum, and you can’t beat that if you’re trying to cut costs.
Is There Another Move Coming?
There has to be, right? Where things stand now, with some talent but no substantial depth behind it, the Blazers have one foot in the competitive present and one foot in a cost-saving rebuild. Another move is likely coming, and what happens next may indicate which direction they’re going to head.
There is still talent out there to be had. I would expect Olshey to take his time and wait for free agent money to dry up. If he can take advantage of a team desperate to shed salary or a free agent left standing when the music stops, Portland could add some decent talent.
However, with every cost-cutting move that the Blazers have made over the last 12 months, it’s more apparent than ever that the most likely direction this team is taking is to look several years into the future, current core be damned. If Olshey fills out his remaining roster spots with more vet-minimum (or close to it) players, it will be all the more evident what his marching orders are. He’s either keeping space open for a last gasp in 2020 or beginning to restructure a roster in preparation for a hard reset.
Should that happen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the much-vaunted Allen Crabbe traded player exception expire unused (as most do) and for Olshey to explore moving the handful of players that have a positive trade value without sacrificing the youth movement of the last two drafts. There’s still a lot of time left this summer. The next few weeks are going to make the team’s intentions clear.
What are your thoughts on Portland’s first 36 hours? Do you think there’s another move ahead? If so, which direction are the Blazers going?