Portland Trail Blazers 2014 NBA Free-Agency Big Board: Top Targets Post-Draft
Without a pick in either round of the 2014 NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers missed out on improving their roster. But as free agency fast approaches, the Blazers can make a mild splash and look to add some depth.
Portland has one of the league's best starting lineups, sporting an All-Star tandem of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard surrounded by specialist role players like Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez.
But with such a strong starting unit, the Blazers had limited contributions from a bench that averaged just 13.7 minutes and 23.6 points—both of which are ranked dead last in each respective category per Hoops Stats.
As such, Portland's focus heading into the rest of the offseason should be on upgrading the reserve detail. Point guard Mo Williams, the team's most consistent contributor off the bench, has stated his desire to opt out but return on a longer deal, per a tweet from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian (h/t CBS Sports).
While it's probably a good move for the Blazers to try and hold on to Williams, how much the guard commands in salary could impact their flexibility when adding more role players. The team only has two open roster spots once Williams hits free agency; therefore, some of the following hinges on whether that happens or not.
In addition, Portland should look to waive little-used guard Allen Crabbe to open up another spot. He played in 15 games last season, averaging 2.2 points in 6.7 minutes. While Crabbe is likely to be part of the Blazers' Las Vegas Summer League roster, per BlazersEdge.com, there remains stronger and more experienced options.
Crabbe is owed just $862,000 next season, with his third year only partially guaranteed and the fourth hinging on a qualifying offer. After such a successful run in both the regular season and the playoffs, Portland should look to add players who can contribute immediately.
In doing so, the Blazers would have the luxury of sporting a deep and experienced bench. It was painfully obvious that Portland needed one desperately during the postseason after being easily beaten 4-1 in their series against the San Antonio Spurs.
In short, the Blazers could have up to three open roster spots heading into free agency if things are managed in a certain way. For argument's sake we'll assume Crabbe stays on board, but keep in mind it's a possibility that up to three players could be added.
As such, Portland's salary cap will sit at $62.1 million going into free agency. That puts them just below the projected 2014-15 salary cap limit of $63.2 million and well below the expected 2014-15 luxury tax line of $77 million.
In any case, the Blazers will have a slim margin of $1.1 million to offer a veteran free agent but will also be able to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.3 million. That amount can be offered to a single free agent or split between two or more players. By that logic, some of those listed could be paired with another, or a single free agent could be signed outright for the full amount.
With all the technicalities out of the way, let's take a look at the plethora of players Portland could target in the 2014 offseason.
Mo Williams, Point Guard
As mentioned, Williams has opted out of his deal to sign long-term. He was a spark plug off the bench for the Blazers during the regular season, chipping in 9.7 points and 4.3 assists in 24.8 minutes per game.
Williams' postseason contributions, however, were less than stellar. His field-goal percentage and three-point percentage dropped from 41.7 and 36.9 percent respectively during the regular season to 37.3 and 23.8 percent during the playoffs.
He was injured toward the end of the second round, but he still shot just 37.8 percent against the Houston Rockets in the first round. Williams' role doesn't show through just by looking at the stat sheet though, as he provided energy and competitiveness off the bench.
With few veteran players on the roster, Williams and fellow point guard Earl Watson were the only players over 30 years of age. Both acted as mentors in their own way, with the former walking the walk on the court and the latter providing more of a Juwan Howard-esque bench-relegated role.
Williams has already stated his desire to return but said it would take "a good contract" for him to stay, per Freeman. He was owed $2.7 million for this season had he exercised his player option, which will probably be right on par with what Portland can offer.
The $5.3 million exception available could cover some of that, but with Williams seemingly out for an increased salary, it might lead to both parties going their separate ways.
He will turn 32 years old as the 2014-15 season gets underway but his worth is really only in the $2.7-$3.5 million price range. And after such a poor postseason display, there's really no grounds for the Blazers to offer Williams a pay raise.
As a former All-Star, the point guard was counted on to provide strong play off a weak bench in the playoffs but failed to do so. In addition, Williams is a sound defender but would not be worth upwards of $2.5 million given his one-sided contributions.
It's a difficult situation, but the Blazers might be better served handing the sixth-man keys to sophomore guard C.J. McCollum if negotiations turn sour.
Chris Kaman, Center
One of the biggest issues Portland had during the season was a lack of consistency from the reserve big men. There aren't many budget-friendly frontcourt players on the market, but Chris Kaman is one of them.
In what was no doubt a frustrating season, Kaman was still able to put up respectable numbers on a troubled Los Angeles Lakers squad. His 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds are somewhat inflated thanks to former head coach Mike D'Antoni's system, but it's still indicative of what Kaman can do.
He played only 18.9 minutes per game and would likely fill a similar role with the Blazers. Centers Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard weren't very solid behind Lopez and Aldridge, which in turn led to limited minutes for both.
Neither are truly experienced players either, so it's a lose-lose situation for the team. Freeland and Leonard aren't accomplished enough to be counted on and likely won't reach that point due to their limited game time.
Kaman offers a better offensive repertoire and knack for rebounding, as well as 11 years of NBA experience. He converted on 47.4 percent of his mid-range jumpers and would work tremendously well as a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop partner with Lillard, Matthews and/or Batum.
Kaman isn't a defensive stopper, but his 1.0 blocks per game are enough to make his presence known in the paint. He'd be able to back up and play alongside either Aldridge or Lopez with ease, and at a good price.
Kaman earned $3.1 million with the Lakers this season after signing a one-year deal. Portland could offer a similar amount, taking a portion of the mid-level exception and leaving enough to sign another veteran player.
Jordan Hill, Center
Much like Kaman, Jordan Hill benefited from playing in the fast-paced D'Antoni system this season. Regardless, he’d make a significant impact as a reserve for the Blazers.
Hill has only begun to truly develop into the prospect many saw when he was drafted No. 8 overall in 2009. He spent the last two seasons with the Lakers, chipping in as an athletic big man in the middle.
He averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game, which jumped to 16.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in 28.8 minutes as a starting center. Hill would obviously come in as a reserve behind Lopez and Aldridge, but those numbers are indicative of what he can do.
Current Blazers forward Thomas Robinson showed during the playoffs how an athletic presence down low can change a game. He wasn’t overly consistent but was a major spark plug when he made big plays (like this one) for the team. Robinson can be a big momentum-changer for Portland off the bench, but he just needs to do it regularly.
Still, Robinson needs some time to develop, so it shouldn’t be a case of him being outed in favor of Hill. But if the two were to pair up as the primary reserve power forward and center, it would be an athletic tandem that few teams could boast.
Hill netted $3.5 million this season but might be after an increased salary after a solid season for Los Angeles. He’d certainly be worth it, so this may be a case of the Blazers using most of their exception on one player.
The team already has the likes of Freeland and Leonard as reserves at center, but Hill offers a unique skill set that neither firmly possess. His athletic ability on the boards and on defense would be refreshing for Portland, and he would provide an injection of hustle and energy off the bench.
Mike Miller, Small Forward/Shooting Guard
The Blazers are a potent three-point shooting team, but adding another shooter in Mike Miller can’t hurt at all.
His defense might have been subpar for the last few seasons, but Miller’s ability from long range more than makes up for it. He averaged 45.9 percent from beyond the arc, knocking down 1.3 shots per game en route to 7.1 points with the Memphis Grizzlies this season.
Miller actually improved on that during the playoffs, scoring 7.3 points on 48.3 percent from three-point range.
The Grizzlies are expected to make a strong push to retain the swingman, but Portland can do the same. Miller’s $884,293 deal with Memphis this season came on the heels on his amnesty from the Miami Heat, but he is likely to earn above that.
The Blazers can make a respectable offer for his services, perhaps a third or half of the $5.3 million exception. Miller doesn’t offer much outside of shooting but can still chip in on the boards and has a high basketball IQ.
His defense isn’t terrific, but it’s something Portland can cover in the game plan. Even though the Blazers shot 37.2 percent from deep as a team, their shooting came largely from Lillard, Matthews and Batum.
The trio of Williams, McCollum and Dorell Wright averaged 1.1, 0.8 and 1.0 makes from long range, respectively, but there’s still room to grow in that area. Memphis might be willing to part with Miller after drafting sharpshooter Jordan Adams out of UCLA, but it’ll come down to Miller’s preference of team.
Portland could make a convincing case, but only if the price is right.
Spencer Hawes, Center
This is one of the few possible additions that would require Portland to use the full $5.3 million exception. And even then it might be a bit of stretch to acquire the services of Spencer Hawes.
The 7’1” center’s $6.6 million salary for this season is slightly above what the Blazers can offer, hence the possibility of adding Hawes would hinge on his willingness to take a slight pay cut.
He averaged 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers, filling in for the injured Anderson Varejao to close the season. Hawes does a bit of everything and would be a beneficial all-around player for Portland.
He dished out 2.4 assists, blocked 1.0 shots and converted on 44.8 percent of his attempts from three-point range. Hawes started 78 of 80 games between spells with the Cavs and Philadelphia 76ers, but he would need to sacrifice his playing time to join a talented squad.
He’s participated in the postseason twice in seven seasons, most recently during 2011-12 with the 76ers. The Blazers were the talk of the league with their sudden resurgence and rise through the Western Conference, which should be the team’s biggest selling point to Hawes.
The big man would join a very talented squad, one that would take full advantage of his skill set. Head coach Terry Stotts didn’t show a willingness to play the reserves much during the season, but he didn’t exactly have the firepower to rely on them either.
That may complicate things, but Hawes should be assured of a consistent role if he were to be signed. He’d play well next to either starting frontcourt player as well as in pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop plays with any perimeter player. Hawes' shooting and passing would be formidable in Portland's offense.
Hawes has the size and length to be a presence defensively as well and should ultimately be the team’s foremost target in free agency. It might mean sacrificing the opportunity to add multiple veterans, but the team’s central need is a reserve big man.
Thabo Sefolosha, Shooting Guard
While the Blazers’ biggest need is down low, the team could also opt to improve the quality of players on the wing. One such target who would help is Thabo Sefolosha.
His signing would signify the first wing player on the roster who can’t shoot from the outside consistently, despite knocking down 33.6 percent of his threes during the first half of the season. A calf strain limited Sefolosha’s effectiveness from March onward, which in turn kept him to 20.8 percent shooting after the All-Star break.
He doesn’t have the necessary confidence or stroke to be a specialist but has dramatically improved over the past few seasons. His true value lies in his defense.
Even at 30, Sefolosha exists as one of the NBA’s best one-on-one and perimeter defenders. His lateral quickness and extensive wingspan allow him to lock up the league’s best, and he could join Portland in a role similar to Tony Allen's on the Grizzlies.
Both Matthews and Batum are solid wing defenders, so adding Sefolosha would only improve the quality of the Blazers’ defense. Batum has been the team’s go-to defender, as he was assigned to defend the likes of James Harden and Tony Parker in the playoffs.
If Portland was to add Sefolosha, the team would be graced with two lockdown defenders on the perimeter. He earned $3.9 million with the Oklahoma City Thunder this season but will potentially earn less next season.
If the Blazers were to offer half of their exception, adding Sefolosha would strengthen their defense with a sizable and experienced veteran. His offense might come and go, but Portland can count on him to lock in on defense every night.
Steve Blake, Point Guard
The possible addition of Steve Blake hinges on whether or not Williams opts to leave Portland and sign elsewhere.
Blake, an 11-year veteran, would represent a swift restructuring at point guard should Williams leave the team. He has bounced to many teams over the course of his career but perhaps had his best years with the Blazers.
Blake filled in as both the starting point guard and as a reserve for Portland during the 2005-06 season before returning in 2007-08 and departing once more in 2009-10. Back when Brandon Roy and Joel Przybilla were healthy and reliable contributors for the team, Blake provided shooting and distributing for the Blazers.
But now at age 34, the point guard may look to contribute on a contending team to close out his career. There are stronger groups with better chances, but Blake’s previous ties with the team could be the sticking point.
His defense isn’t strong at this stage of his career, but his experience and play offensively counteract that to a certain extent. Blake is an intelligent player, averaging 3.6 assists with only 1.1 turnovers in just 28 games with the Warriors this season.
Despite joining the team at a last-minute juncture of the season via the trade deadline, Blake still came in and provided efficient help. He scored 4.4 points behind guard Stephen Curry, converting on 34.2 percent from three-point range.
Blake’s contract of $4 million for the season will be the last mid-level deal he earns, as few teams would offer close to that amount. As such, Portland could offer part of the exception or the $1.1 million the team has under the cap.
In doing so, the Blazers would be able to add an experienced guard while also being mindful of their salary cap. Blake would back up Lillard well, providing veteran leadership for the All-Star point guard and fellow inexperienced guard McCollum.
In addition, Portland would leave the door wide open to pursue another free agent like Hawes or Hill with the money saved.