Report Card Grades for Portland Trail Blazers 2014 Offseason So Far

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Report Card Grades for Portland Trail Blazers 2014 Offseason So Far
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With the majority of free agency sorted, we can take a step back and review how teams fared during the period.

The Portland Trail Blazers remained relatively quiet throughout, though the team was still able to make moves to improve. They weren't major changes, but ones that were necessary and fit within the construct of the Blazers.

Whether it was during free agency, the NBA draft or the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League, Portland orchestrated its offseason patiently and in doing so made intelligent moves for the upcoming season.

Having said that, there's always room for analysis. Let's take a look at the Blazers' 2014 offseason so far and grade the moves made by the team.

 

2014 NBA Draft: No Picks Made

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In one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, the Blazers missed out on all the fun without a single pick in either round.

Portland's 2014 first-round pick was sent to the Charlotte Hornets in the 2011 trade that netted them Gerald Wallace, while their second-round pick went to the Denver Nuggets when the Blazers acquired Raymond Felton in a three-team trade during the same year.

But it was for the better, as Portland is a young team on the rise. The team has a plethora of inexperienced contributors on the roster already, namely C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard, that are in need of development.

Adding a first-year player would have completely gone against the Blazers' roster needs. The rotation is already without experience as it is, and few players in the draft would have been able to break through and contribute anyway.

Portland could have traded into the draft and acquired a pick but smartly stayed pat without making any moves. The only players of true value reside in the starting lineup, and the return of drafting a player would not have been worth it.

Moving Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum to snag the likes of a talented youngster would be taking a step back in terms of progress. LaMarcus Aldridge is in his prime, and winning now is the focus.

Developing talent is not, no matter how enticing.

Grade: A

 

Free Agency: Not Rolling out the Red Carpet for Mo Williams

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After point guard Earl Watson, Mo Williams was the only major free agent for the Blazers. He opted out of his $2.7 million option for the upcoming season in hope of signing a longer contract with Portland.

Per The Oregonian's Joe Freeman, Williams stated it would take "a good contract" for him to stick with the Blazers. Considering Portland had little cap space to begin with, deciding to not go all in for Williams was a smart move.

Rather than splurge the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and cap space all on the point guard, the Blazers were able to turn that into two serviceable players. The improvement of McCollum as a reserve guard may have played a big role, as he averaged 20.2 points on 47.9 percent shooting in the Las Vegas Summer League.

A return to Portland isn't ruled out for Williams though, as the Blazers can shuffle the roster to make room. But the chances are slim, considering the abundance of guards already on the roster as well as the limited salary to offer.

The most the Blazers could work with would be just around what Williams originally left on the table, which would seemingly contradict his leaving in the first place. Unless he takes a significant pay cut to remain with the team, the possibility he leaves is much stronger.

But in doing so, Portland strengthens the roster in two areas rather than one.

Grade: A

 

Free Agency: Signing of Steve Blake

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Whether it was insurance in case of Williams leaving or a bold move regardless of the former outcome, the Blazers added an experienced guard to back up Damian Lillard in Steve Blake.

Blake, an 11-year pro, spent parts of last season with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors. Even at age 34, he remained a strong contributor whether he stared or came off the bench.

Blake's stats were potentially inflated playing under former Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni and his uptempo offense, but his 9.5 points, 7.6 assists and 39.7 percent shooting from long range were terrific in place of an injured Steve Nash.

When he was traded to the Warriors midseason, Blake was transferred to a reserve role in 27 games. He still chipped in 4.4 points, 3.6 assists and 34.2 percent shooting from deep in 21.7 minutes. 

The point guard was bothered by an elbow injury that limited him to 55 games on the season, marking the third time in as many seasons Blake played in 55 games or less. He has been injury prone in his later years, but coming off the bench will somewhat prevent Blake from overexerting himself.

Blake has spent almost four complete seasons with the Blazers in the past, last suiting up for them during the 2009-10 season. It was a good signing for Portland in terms of bringing back an experienced and familiar face at a solid price.

Blake's contract will pay him approximately $2.07 million for this season with a team option of $2.17 million for next season, per Basketball Insiders. It's a lesser amount than what the Blazers would have had to shell out to retain Williams, though other options were available at that price.

The likes of Jordan Farmar (two years, $4.2 million), Beno Udrih (two years, starting at $2.1 million) and/or Jameer Nelson (unsigned) are all more skilled contributors than Blake at this point and could have joined for about the same sized contract.

The fact remains that Blake fills a need for the Blazers in terms of shooting, distributing and accepting a limited role off the bench. There could be nights that Blake doesn't play, as Lillard, Matthews, McCollum and Will Barton have things covered. It's unlikely those aforementioned names would be content with that, which makes the addition of Blake easier to manage.

The size of his contract remains somewhat questionable though, given other players with more talent are at the same level.

Grade: B+

 

Free Agency: Signing of Chris Kaman

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LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers might be a perfect match, but Chris Kaman and the Blazers are just as ideal.

Portland's reserve squad ranked among the worst in the NBA last season, coming in dead last in minutes and in scoring. Much of those points came from Williams however, with his 9.7 points per game providing almost half of the bench's 23.6 points, per Hoops Stats.

Very little came from the reserve frontcourt however, with Joel Freeland, Leonard and Robinson playing with little consistency for head coach Terry Stotts and his staff to rely on. 

With the addition of Kaman, the Blazers have a veteran big who plays both a physical and finesse style. His low-post skills, rebounding and shot-blocking represent the former aspect, while his jump shooting and passing represent the latter.

Much like his former Lakers teammate and now current Blazers teammate in Blake, Kaman's numbers are slightly ballooned due to playing under D'Antoni. It isn't as extreme as Blake's stats though, as the big man put up nearly identical numbers in a very similar role with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2012-13 season.

In 18.9 minutes, Kaman put up 10.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot 50.9 percent from the field and 76.5 percent from the charity stripe and will fit in perfectly for Portland. 

Kaman's ability to play either the low or high post as well as in the pick-and-roll makes him a terrific partner for Lillard, Matthews or Batum in set plays. He can also take it himself in the post if need be.

This video, which displays highlights from Kaman's 28-point, 17-rebound, six-assist night against the Phoenix Suns on Mar. 30, gives a glimpse into what he will do for the Blazers. I would stress highly that such a stat line was rare for him during the season, but his versatility was on full display.

To up the ante even more on Kaman's signing, simply imagine Lillard or Batum in the pick-and-roll sets seen in the video.

Kaman was the perfect addition for Portland this offseason, and his $4.8 million for this season is well worth it. He can come in behind Aldridge or Robin Lopez and will provide a reliable and experienced contributor on both ends of the floor, every night, that Stotts can trust.

Grade: A+

 

Final Grade:

The Blazers offseason was comparatively quiet against some other teams, but it was just how things needed to go for Portland. The team could have overreacted and traded into the draft, but they have trust in the younger players.

Adding more inexperience would have directly contradicted trying to move up in the Western Conference and would have become a distraction on a team that seems hellbent on winning now. 

When free agency rolled around, the Blazers were, again, patient and careful with their approach. Portland's choice to wait in re-signing Williams allowed the team to add Blake and Kaman, which improves the Blazers as a whole rather than one concentrated area.

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It might mean the backcourt is a little less talented, but with McCollum and Barton on the rise, the loss of Williams will be less of a hit than most expect. Blake is a better fit with the roster, considering the improvement of the aforesaid backcourt duo, and adding the veteran allowed the Blazers to sign Kaman as well.

Portland will have a strong frontcourt going forward, with Aldridge, Lopez, Kaman, Robinson and Freeland in the rotation. Leonard remains a work in progress, but his development can come without the pressure and urgency that have seemed to hinder it in the past.

All in all, the Blazers came out winners this offseason. The future is very bright for this young squad, and with the addition of a couple of savvy veterans, Portland fans should be excited for the upcoming season.

Grade: A 

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