A huge summer awaits the Portland Trail Blazers and general manager Neil Olshey.
One of the biggest questions is what the Blazers will do with forward J.J. Hickson, who has played admirably as a undersized center all season. The NC State product was signed to a one-year, $4 million deal last summer and will become a free agent this offseason.
Despite Hickson's breakout year with averages of 13.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, Olshey was non-committal about re-signing him, according to a recent interview with Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune.
He has a very high cap hold ($7.98 million). It's not just a question of whether you can bring him back. It's within the context of...what positions would you not be able to bring in if you sign him? We are the worst team in the NBA in points in the paint and protecting the rim. We've been disguising J.J., who has been a warrior and played hard all year, but there's a certain reality to playing a 6'8" power forward as your 5-man.
Olshey said the Blazers have "four starting spots filled" with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard. Management knew center was a priority last summer when it tried to make a big splash. The Blazers planned to offer restricted free agent Roy Hibbert a four-year, $58 million deal, according to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated. Indiana later re-signed Hibbert, leading to the Blazers re-signing Hickson.
Hickson has played well in the meantime. He has 40 double-doubles this season and is just one of 12 players in the league today averaging at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. He's finally found his niche in the league after a promising start to his career in Cleveland and an unfortunate fallout in Sacramento. He's only 24 years old and has plenty of prime years left in his career.
His athleticism and eye for rebounding have been impressive. The biggest drawbacks, however, have been his defensive liabilities as a 6'8" center and moments of back-breaking plays that have killed momentum.
But Hickson certainly has value in this league. He would make a tremendous backup for the Blazers behind Aldridge, but it would have to be at the right cost. ESPN Insider's Amin Elhassan wrote he could see Hickson garnering a four-year, $30-million offer this summer, which would be seemingly much more than what Portland would feel he's worth.
The Blazers own Hickson's Bird Rights, which means they can re-sign him to more money than any other team. Would it be smart for Portland to allow an asset to walk away for nothing? That is the conundrum facing them this summer.
The market will dictate his worth, but it wouldn't be surprising if Hickson could be playing his final games in a Blazer uniform.
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