I’m not a huge Al-Farouq Aminu fan. I could do without another 184 catapault-esque 3-point bricks and 72 face-palming turnovers next season. I hope we never hear “I was hacked” from a Trail Blazers player ever again.
Good news for me! Aminu is a free agent this summer and the Blazers could easily let him walk. Unfortunately, even I have to admit, the Blazers should probably re-sign him.
Why retain him?
Aminu’s played 328 games in Portland over the last four years. I’m guessing every single person reading this knows what he brings to the table at this point, so I’ll pass on 827 words and nine video embeds explaining his game.
Suffice to say, he’s an excellent man-to-man defender, surprisingly good at disrupting post-ups from bigger players, and helps compensate for weaknesses in other parts of the Blazers roster.
He’s offensively limited but can be relied upon to stay out of the way while Damian Lillard does his thing and then (somewhat miraculously) convert on a respectable 35 percent of 3-pointers when defenses ignore him.
Aminu has worked to reduce his most maddening sins, overdribbling and poor decision making, and has become a slightly more patient player who occasionally finds an open seam to cut through and convert a dunk.
The bottom line is that 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and upper-level defense aren’t going to get any all-star nods, but they will earn an “integral” endorsement from Lillard. Aminu is the typical above-average, fringe starter that every team needs to compete in the NBA.
Free Agent Situation
The Blazers have Aminu’s Bird Rights since he’s played in Portland for several seasons so General Manager Neil Olshey can re-sign Aminu despite the team’s dire payroll situation. Aminu’s contract will have no impact on the taxpayer mid-level exception, but broadly speaking the Blazers won’t gain any extra money if they let Aminu walk.
In other words, there’s not an obvious way to replace Aminu if he goes elsewhere. Assuming nobody throws an Allen Crabbe-esque overpay at Aminu, it’d be wise for Olshey to offer the team’s starting power forward a fair contract.
The Blazers also have a complete lack of appropriately paid role players right now. That makes mythical consolidation trades or salary dump trades significantly more difficult. A re-signed Aminu will continue to fill that niche for Portland, increasing the team’s flexibility in trade negotiations.
Why might they let Aminu walk?
Given that Aminu is a solid, if unspectacular, player and re-signing him generally won’t affect other free agent negotiations but may help Olshey make a trade down the road, is there any reason the Blazers wouldn’t keep Aminu around?
Other than the obvious scenario of Aminu being offered the patented “Evan Turner literally ran to the bank” contract, choosing to not re-sign Chief would suggest that Olshey has free agent plans in store.
As discussed last week, the Blazers could renounce Aminu as part of a multi-step move to open up a full mid-level exception contract. They could also let Aminu walk in anticipation of being free agent players next summer — the Blazers have “only” about $88 million committed to six players, against an expected cap of $118 million.
Those scenarios come with risk — Aminu leaving won’t accomplish anything on its own so other contingent moves would need to be completed to justify his departure. And even then, if the Blazers choose not to keep Aminu but don’t subsequently sign any impact players then Olshey should be rightly criticized.
There’s also an argument to be made that letting a key rotation player walk after a Western Conference Finals run in hopes of having cap space NEXT summer would be a dubious decision as it would undermine the team’s ability to compete this season. In that scenario, the Blazers would need a home run of a free agent signing in 2020 as justification.
In short, if Aminu does re-sign with the Blazers many trade options will be available with or without using his contract, but if he leaves at a reasonable price it’s a sign the Blazers are likely hoping to be free agent players at some point before the 2020-21 season.