Perhaps nowhere, outside of Oklahoma City, has this 4th of July and the NBA offseason been met with such deflation as here in Portland.
Armed with potentially $40 million in cap space and clear-cut needs for a rim-protecting center, an athletic and versatile wing and a backup point guard, the Blazers and Neil Olshey have so far produced … Evan Turner.
Along the way, Chandler Parsons reportedly spurned a $94 million offer to play for the same money in Memphis. Pau Gasol turned down a reported deal with Portland worth a whopping $40 million over two years to ink with San Antonio for the same time and $10 million less. And another target – center Zaza Pachulia – was so entranced by the smell of success in Golden State that he went to the Bay for a mere $2.9 million.
If you are counting at home, that’s three strikes, and tonight many think the Blazers are out, left standing in the box with the bat still on their shoulder.
I wish I could tell you things will get better. That Olshey has one of his smarter-than-us moves up his sleeve.
But I can’t. By now, the free agent market has been stripped nearly bare of the players who can step in and make a difference.
I don’t know what Olshey is up to. I don’t know if he is as frustrated as you. Or if he indeed has a series of moves ready to put into action. As is his way of doing business, Olshey doesn’t share, leak or shape his plan through the media.
So what to make of this anti-climatic 4th of July that is the Blazers’ offseason so far?
Well, in fairness, it’s probably somewhere in the middle of being not as bad as it seems but not as good as the Blazers had hoped.
I know a lot of fans don’t want to hear that right now. They want to be talking about the rim-protection of Hassan Whiteside, or Bismack Biyombo. Or the shooting of Kent Bazemore or Parsons.
But step back for a minute and breath. And look at the team.
Right now, as of today, the Blazers figure to be a better team than last season.
Right now, I have them as the sixth best team in the conference, behind Golden State, San Antonio, the Clippers, Memphis and Utah and ahead of Oklahoma City, Dallas and Minnesota.
Turner got paid $70 million over four years (average $17.5 million a season) which is way more than anyone dreamed the wing would ever get paid. But hey, that’s today’s NBA.
And as much as Turner is not a sexy name or an impact player, he will greatly help this team.
He’s a 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward who can defend and handle the ball, alleviating an enormous amount of pressure from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who were suffocated by traps during the playoffs.
Turner in Boston came off the bench and was essentially a point-forward for the Celtics, averaging 4.4 assists along the way. The Blazers’ wings last year – Al Farouq-Aminu, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson – were not ball handlers and were not facilitators in the halfcourt.
Turner will be that play maker and facilitator as the team’s starting small forward, and he will likely move to shooting guard when McCollum slides over to backup point guard.
And he gives the Blazers some versatility and depth on defense. We saw how much better the Blazers were defensively when Aminu went to power forward and Harkless started at small forward and checked point guards. They could switch on pick-and-rolls, which became a factor in the Clippers series, even before Chris Paul got injured.
Turner will also be able to provide that kind of versatility on defense, allowing the Blazers to counter the growing trend of small lineups in the NBA.
We still don’t know whether Portland will match what figure to be upcoming offers to Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Harkless, but one agent on Monday said the Blazers weren’t willing to renounce those players to create enough cap space to pursue Festus Ezeli, the free agent center from Golden State. That says the Blazers value those three players, and will likely bring them back.
The hardest part to digest is that if ever there was a time, a front office executive and a team to lure a big-name free agent, this was it.
The Blazers are a sky rocket of a team, a likeable and honorable core of hard workers and largely unselfish players who are only going to get better. They have a team-first star in Damian Lillard. A well-liked coach in Terry Stotts who figures out how to best fit players into his system, which is why nearly every rotation player who has come through Portland has produced a career year.
And, they have Olshey – the fast-talking whirlwind of an executive who was always two steps ahead of everybody before they knew what hit them. He had what owner Paul Allen refers as “the golden gut” – a guy who could not only identify talent, but also how it fit on and off the court.
But somewhere along the way, it all didn’t matter. Not to Parsons. Not to Gasol. Not to Pachulia.
I don’t know who or what is to blame - Olshey, the city of Portland, or just bad luck – but here the Blazers are, deep into free agency with a smoldering firecracker, the only solace being they didn’t get worse, like Oklahoma City, and they didn't throw money at a player just to say they signed someone.
Maybe this summer will be just what the likes of Lillard and McCollum seem to thrive on: having a slight to feed off, something to rally around, something to say I-told-you-so.
It brings us back to the last 4th of July. It was the day LaMarcus Aldridge announced he was leaving the Blazers for San Antonio. Back then, it was widely viewed as a dark day in Blazers history.
But one year later, would many Blazers fans argue it was not for the best?