Who should the Blazers keep on to help Damian Lillard next season?
These decisions are crucial for the Blazers if they want to build a playoff-ready squad for the 2013-14 season. While certain players are worth fighting for, others are easier to let go and will present Portland with the opportunity to add more talented players to the team.
J.J. Hickson, C
First, there’s center J.J. Hickson, who earned $4 million last year with the Blazers. Hickson averaged 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per 29.0 minutes of game play last season. Coupled with LaMarcus Aldridge, Hickson is a solid force on the low post for the Blazers.
Though Hickson will probably be more expensive to retain than the other free agents, Portland should definitely try to bring him back next season. The big man does a great job rebounding and is a huge asset for the team at the center position.
However, Portland general manager Neil Olshey has hinted that Hickson will not fill the Blazer's starting position next season, meaning Portland may be preparing to let the big man walk. Time will tell.
Luke Babbitt, SF
Next, there’s Luke Babbitt, the 23-year-old small forward with only three years experience in the NBA. Last season, Babbitt averaged 3.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 11.8 minutes per game coming off the bench for Nicolas Batum.
The Trail Blazers already refrained from picking up the fourth year option on Babbitt’s contract, meaning they probably won’t be looking to bring the small forward back for another season.
For 2012-13, Babbitt earned just under $2 million. If the Blazers can get him back for a steal he might be worth it, but given his mediocre impact last season, they don’t really need him. In addition to starting small forward Nicolas Batum, Portland has Victor Claver and Will Barton to fill the position next season.
Elliott Williams, SG
Then there’s shooting guard Elliot Williams, who missed the entirety of last season because of a torn left Achilles tendon. He averaged 3.7 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.3 assists in a mere 6.2 minutes per game for the 2011-12 season, and the Blazers paid him approximately $1.5 million for his game-less 2012-13 season.
The bottom line is this: Williams did not show enough potential two seasons ago to warrant another paycheck from the Trail Blazers. What happens if he gets injured again or hasn’t recovered properly? The Blazers shouldn’t take a chance on the shooting guard.
Portland will have Wesley Matthews and Sasha Pavlovic to play at shooting guard next season, and they should look for another backup to replace Elliot Williams.
Nolan Smith, PG
The Trail Blazers also lose backup point guard Nolan Smith to free agency this offseason. For 2012-13, Smith averaged only 2.8 points, 0.7 rebounds and 0.9 assists per 7.2 minutes of game play. He earned about $1.4 million last season.
It’s hard for any backup point guard to measure up to NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. Still, Smith really didn’t do much for the Blazers last season, as evidenced by his statistics.
Eric Maynor, PG
Point guard Eric Maynor will become a restricted free agent this summer, and he's more worth fighting for than Smith. Maynor averaged 4.5 points, 0.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per 15.0 minutes of game play during the 2012-13 season. Maynor earned about $2.3 million last year.
If Portland retains Eric Maynor to come off the bench when Lillard needs a break, the Trail Blazers don’t need to keep Nolan Smith. The team would be better off shopping for another backup point guard, or even a backup for another position, instead of spending more money on Smith.
The Trail Blazers have incredible forces in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. They will have another big force on the low post if they succeed in bringing back J.J. Hickson. They need to let the weaker players go and spend their money on better backups for their star players. If Portland does so, the Blazers will have the power to make a great run for the playoffs in 2013-14.