The Portland Trail Blazers are re-tooling their roster this summer after gutting some of the more bloated contracts at February’s trade deadline.
While big names—including Jeremi Grant, DeAndre Ayton and OG Anunoby—have already been bandied about as potential trade targets, the Blazers will also have an opportunity to improve the roster via free agency.
There’s little doubt, General Manager Joe Cronin will aim to retain free agents Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, but who else will he be targeting as the clock strikes 9pm PT on June 30?
At his disposal, Cronin will either have the $10.3 mid-level or $6.4 million taxpayer midlevel exceptions, to go with the $4.04 million bi-annual exception, which the franchise failed to use last year given the then-roster’s proximity to the luxury tax.
Since this year’s class isn’t particularly star studded, both exceptions may help the Blazers compete for the few decent free agents on the market.
Let’s have a look at seven names who might be attainable between that $4 million and $10.3 million range and at positions of need.
TJ Warren, Forward, Indiana Pacers
I’ve had my eye on Warren for years, especially after he showed out in Indianapolis a couple of years back. Unfortunately for the big wing, injuries have waylaid his basketball aspirations, playing only four games over the past two seasons.
The 28-year-old now finds himself back in the free agency pool, 24 months after last being able to impact the game. During that 2000-21 COVID-interrupted season Warren’s star rose. Through 67 games, the 6’7, 22lbs wing averaged 19.8 points on 40 percent three point shooting, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals for the Indiana Pacers. He was also named to the All Orlando Bubble First Team, averaging 31 points through the eight seeding games.
Before his injury, Warren might have attracted $15 million-plus per year, but injuries, most recently to his left foot, have reduced his earning capacity. As the Blazers showed four years ago with Seth Curry, it can be worth taking a chance on player returning to form after a decent spell away from the game.
This year’s salary — $12.69 million
Nicolas Batum, Forward, Los Angeles Clippers
Batum’s impressive play-in performance proved the 33-year-old was still able to compete on both sides of the ball. It’s also pertinent to mention that Damian Lillard, one of the Frenchman’s closest friends in the NBA, last year asked then Portland executive to Neil Olshey to go after the former Blazer.
Unfortunately, the Blazers didn’t have the financial flexibility to lure back Batum, eventually re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers for $3.1 million.
This offseason Batum has a player option for $3.3 million, which means it’s up to him whether he stays in Los Angeles. Let’s hope there still some sentimentality for Portland, especially with the man who traded him away (Olshey) seven years ago, well and truly gone.
Last season, Batum, on an injury-ravaged Clippers team registered 8.3 points on 40 percent three point shooting, 4.3 rebound, 1.7 assists and 1 steal.
This year’s salary — $3.1 million
Kyle Anderson, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
Like Batum, Kyle Anderson is a Swiss-army knife, able to do a little of everything. At 28 and standing 6’9, Anderson has provided real depth for the Grizzlies. He’s smart, composed and capable on both offense and defense. He’s probably not a starter in Portland but would, no doubt, reinforce the bench the roster looks to be building quite competently.
This season, Anderson finished with 7.6 points on 33 percent three point shooting, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals.
This year’s salary — $9.9 million
Otto Porter Jr., Forward, Golden State Warriors
Porter Jr. has played a minor, but still significant, role on a Warriors team returning to the NBA Finals. The 28-year-old looks to have overcome a string of injuries, offering pinch-hitting contributions off the bench as a bigger wing. Always a reliable long-range shooter, he’s been able to nudge his three point average to a stroke under 40 percent this season.
He’s also been solid on the defensive end, a trait that’s probably helped him see 20-plus minutes a contest through 13 playoff games thus far.
This season, the 6’8 Porter Jr. he’s been able to put up 8.2 points on 37 percent three point shooting to go with 5.7 boards, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals.
This year’s salary — $2.3 million
Bobby Portis, Forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Portis, who has a player option for $4.5 million this summer, has reinvigorated his career with the Bucks, after stints with the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and New York Knicks. The 27-year-old has matured, understanding his strengths and weaknesses, which has, in turn, helped him contribute to the Bucks’ 2021 title run.
While he played on a cheapish $4.3 million deal this year, you’d imagine that was a discount to stay with a championship squad team.
So if Portland is going to lure him out of Wisconsin, they may have to get out the check book with the price likely edging closer to the $10 million mark, given his still relative youngish body.
This season, he’s recorded 14.6 points on 39 percent three point shooting, 9.1 boards and 1.2 assists.
This year’s salary — $4.3 million
Mo Bamba, Center, Orlando Magic
This is not the first time I’ve praised Bamba. He’s a unique combination of ridiculous length at the big man position with a decent-enough three point shot. Sure, 7 feet is pretty standard for a centre but the man comes with an astounding 7’10 wingspan, meaning he’s pretty much able to bat back anything that comes even close to the rim.
The 24-year-old has also been playing for the Magic, which makes me wonder how much better he could be on a decently run franchise. Sorry, not sorry,
Yes, he’s a restricted free agent but, Bamba’s hopes to stay in Orlando may also be jeopardized by the franchise’s prospective number one pick, which will yield the likes of Jabari Smith Jr. Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero. Not to mention Wendell Carter Jr. who was brought over from the Chicago Bulls in the Nikola Vucevic trade.
Going after Bamba gives Cronin options for assessing Nurkic who likely come back as an unrestricted free agent. If Bamba can prove he’s a starting caliber player, the Blazers may be able to move the big Bosnian for a player at a position of need — namely the two forward spots.
Bamba put up 10.6 points on 38 percent three point shooting, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.7 blocks this season.
This year’s salary — $7.5 million
Thomas Bryant, Center, Washington Wizards
Despite Daniel Gafford displacing Bryant as the Wizards’ starting big, a fit Bryant is still an intriguing prospect.
After being waived by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, Bryant found a new home in the nation’s capital, however injuries have kept him out of action for extended periods. In fact, he’s only suited up in 37 games over the past two seasons.
When healthy, the 24-year-old is a genuine modern-day center. Like Bamba, able to protect the rim and, if pushed, shoot the three.
But his durability should keep him within Portland’s price range. Similar to Warren Bryant might be pigeonholed as a Seth Curry-top prospect, who when fit can be a decent contributor on a good team. Like Bamba, luring Bryant to Portland could also change the way the franchise see Nurkic.
In 27 games this season, Bryant recorded 7.4 points, 4 boards and 0.9 assists.
This year’s salary — $8.7 million
Cronin’s February deadline deeds have helped this roster escape the luxury tax. Now with flexibility on his side, the Blazers will be able to offer more than just veteran level contracts to players in, or close enough to, their respective primes.
With Damian Lillard and Coach Chauncey Billups already showing eagerness to help lure free agents to Portland, they may be able to put their money where their respective mouths are.