OK, so this headline initially read “Neil Olshey’s missed free agent targets” but that seemed a little passive aggressive. Alas, this week we’re going to look at the past nine years and check in on some of the names the Blazers were reported to have interest during free agency but weren’t able to snag.
Portland has had few offseasons with real cap space during the Olshey/Damian Lillard era and none since the indulgent summer of 2016 when the franchise doled out dollars like Oprah once gifted cars.
Olshey has long claimed that it’s consistently difficult to lure free agents to Portland given the size of the market and Oregon’s prohibitive tax laws. This vehement assertion has attempted to excuse the front office’s inability to land big, or even medium-sized, fish.
Let’s delve into some names and their links to Portland’s alleged pursuits.
After stints with the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks, Parsons returned to the open market in 2016, the year almost every NBA team had cash to flash. As the clock struck midnight on the East Coast — the days when free agency commenced at a less convenient hour — the Blazers were reported to have offered a max contract to the in-demand wing according to then-Yahoo Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
Parsons then used the public Portland offer to leverage a max contact out of the Memphis Grizzlies before a string of knee injuries allowed him to play 95 games over the next three seasons. His expiring contract was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2019 offseason, prompting him to play five games in Georgia before a serious road accident ended the then 31-year-old’s career prematurely.
The former University of Florida product would have helped the young Blazers continue building in the wake of LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure. Olshey went on to sign handsomely paid Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless that summer.
Parsons finished with career numbers of 12.7 points on 37 percent three point shooting, along with 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
Four years earlier, Marc Stein, then of ESPN, reported the new Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey had signed restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert to a max contract offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers later matching. Hibbert and the Pacers went on to compete in two straight Eastern Conference Finals, stopped both times by LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
His peak almost fell off a cliff when he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015 followed by short stints with the Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets. He had retired by 2018 before earning a player development coaching role with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hibbert’s nine-year career yielded averages of 10 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 assists along with All-Star appearances in 2012 and 2014 as well as an All Defensive Second team performance, also in 2014.
The Georgetown standout would have been a nice frontcourt companion to Aldridge before Robin Lopez arrived in 2013 to steal everyone’s hearts.
Millsap’s connection to the Blazers predates Olshey, with the forward signing a four-year, $32 million restricted free agent offer sheet with Portland in 2009, according to Stein and Chris Broussard at ESPN. The Utah Jazz matched shortly after.
But Olshey’s arrival in Portland in 2012 didn’t change the Blazers affections with Millsap supposedly pursued by the franchise over the past two offseasons, only to sign with the Nuggets and most recently with the Brooklyn Nets.
The 36-year-old is now well past his prime, offering spot minutes and towel waving. But in his prime years, Millsap was considered one the best forwards in the league, with his Atlanta Hawks taking over from Hibbert’s Pacers as the Heat’s main rival in the East. During this period Millsap enjoyed four All-Star appearances (2014-2017), and an All-Defensive Second team nod in 2016. While Millsap wouldn’t have contributed much over the past two seasons, his career could have looked pretty different if the Jazz hadn’t matched in 2009.
The Louisiana Tech draftee’s 15-year career has been pretty impressive, recording averages of 13.7 points on 34 percent three-point shooting. 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals and one block.
So many fans are torn when asked to summarize Kanter’s two tours in Portland, but we can’t forget that his association with the Blazers started long before he arrived. Wojnarowski reported that Kanter signed a four-year $70 million restricted free agency offer sheet with the rebuilding Blazers in 2015.
Some believed the offer was tactical, forcing Kanter’s newest team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to overpay for the Turkish center.
Kanter eventually found his way to Portland, twice. After being bought out by the New York Knicks in February 2019, he signed with the Blazers as soon as he cleared waivers. Kanter was set to play a bigger role in Portland than anyone expected, helping the team to the Western Conference Finals after Jusuf Nurkic suffered a gruesome leg break a month later.
During the 2020 offseason, he signed with the Boston Celtics but was re-routed back to Oregon 12 months later in a trade that involved Mario Hezonja heading to the Grizzlies.
Kanter’s second stop in Portland was less memorable, making up one half of the team’s defensively poor reserve frontcourt, but his personality will always hold him in good stead as a Blazers alumnus.
In what can only be described as deja vu, Kanter again signed with the Celtics this offseason. hoping to build on career averages of 11.5 points, 7.9 boards, and 0.9 assists.
While the Blazers were flaming out in the Parsons sweepstakes in 2016, they were also making unsuccessful advances on another future Blazer: Hassan Whiteside, who’d re-built his career with the Miami Heat after his first attempt with the Sacramento Kings resulted in him being forced to play overseas.
During the 2015-16 season, Whiteside put up averages of 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks and was widely considered one of the best centers in the league.
His revival in South Beach also caught Olshey’s eye and after making the pitch, Whiteside acknowledged that the Blazers were his second choice in 2016. The Whiteside addition would have been an interesting move with Mason Plumlee set to be traded to the Nuggets eight months later for Jusuf Nurkic and a first round pick.
But Olshey regularly gets his guy, and he brought the big man over in 2019 exchanging Leonard and Harkless — two other players who were handed handy pay rises in 2016.
While Whiteside filled the void left by Nurkic’s horrifying leg break, his tendency for laziness and poor body language left Blazers fans wanting more from time to time. He put up 15.5 points, 13.5 boards and 2.9 blocks during the COVID-interrupted season.
After his one year in Blazers’ colors, Whiteside returned to the Kings before signing with the Utah Jazz this offseason.
Selected in the second round out of Marshall, Whiteside’s career numbers read 13.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
Again, we go back to 2016 when Stein reported that Olshey and co. put a two-year, $40 million contract in front of then 36-year-old Pau Gasol, only for him to sign for less money with the San Antonio Spurs. Now, Gasol eventually signed a contract with the Blazers but it wasn’t until 2019 when injuries and being almost 40 resulted in him never taking the court.
It appears Gasol was the fallback to Whiteside in 2016 and was approached before Turner, Crabbe, Leonard, and Harkless were signed with the news filtering through on July 3rd.
For an aging superstar, Gasol still had moves at the time, coming off two All-Star appearances with the Chicago Bulls in 2015 and 2016.
If the big Spaniard had joined the Blazers, he would have played productive understudy to Plumlee, given his Spurs numbers were pretty good for a guy in his mid 30s — 10 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and one block. He was bought out in March 2019 before signing with the Milwaukee Bucks where played only three games.
The two-time champion and six-time All Star hasn’t ruled out a return to the NBA at 41 but over his 18 years in the league has averaged 17 points on 36 percent three point shooting along with 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 blocks.
Kelly Oubre Jr. and Nicolas Batum
The Athletic’s Jason Quick reported earlier in the summer that the Blazers had gone after Oubre Jr. and Batum at Lillard’s urging before the pair signed with the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers respectively. We’ll see how these decisions pan out.
Every team makes plays at free agents and every team misses out. This is not an Olshey-bashing exercise. Rather, sometimes it’s interesting to take a look at what could have been.
If there are any names I’ve missed, feel free to mention them in the comments.