Trail Blazers' 2016 foray into free agency has been one marked by misses even as they improve

Trail Blazers' 2016 foray into free agency has been one marked by misses even as they improve

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?

 

Unable to trade, Blazers bet on future with Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent

Unable to trade, Blazers bet on future with Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent

Unable to make a trade, Neil Olshey on Thursday decided the Trail Blazers’ best path was to gamble.

So the Blazers’ president of basketball operations took a chance in the first round, drafting guard Anfernee Simons, who earlier this month turned 19. Simons bypassed college last season and trained at the renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

For Blazers’ fans who were hoping for a trade to land a proven veteran, or at least prospect who has a proven track record, the selection of Simons could be viewed as risky.

And Olshey wouldn’t dispute that.

“But it’s not our job to play it safe,’’ Olshey said. “Our job is to go get the guy who has the talent, that if he pans out, you’re not going to get as a free agent, and that nobody is going to trade him to you. That’s what we are trying to find.’’

Olshey thinks he might have that in Simons, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard who is slight of build but heavy in potential.

“He’s really gifted,’’ Olshey said. “We felt like he was the most talented guy (left) on the board. He has a really bright future … When the physical growth catches up to his natural, God-given ability, he’s going to be a really good player.’’

Later, in the second round, the Blazers traded with Sacramento to acquire Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th overall pick. Trent, another 19-year-old who just finished his freshman season at Duke, is a wing who is expected to have more of a chance to play next season.

“We are all looking for shooting and this is a guy we think can step in right away and fill a void,’’ Olshey said. “How much or how little is up to (coach) Terry (Stotts). But I don’t think we are going to need to be as patient with Gary.’’

Since the Blazers were swept in the playoffs, Olshey has been transparent about seeking veterans to add to one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. And on Thursday, he directly said the Blazers are looking for wings. 

Ideally, Olshey said he would have liked to execute a trade using the team’s $12.9 traded-player-exception from last July’s move of Allen Crabbe, but the rest of the league was more focused on the draft, and not player movement.  

“We were trying to look for teams where trading 24 could get us an impact rotation guy into the trade exception,’’ Olshey said. “But tonight wasn’t about existing players (for other teams); it was about the draft. 

“We were aggressive leading up to the draft – but we know it was to be a specific fit, a specific guy in terms of skill set. And a guy we believe could make an impact,’’ Olshey said. “Tonight wasn’t the night to do that.’’

So, the Blazers looked ahead, hoping that a player most had targeted in the second round because of his youth and inexperience on the big stage, will one day develop into a star.

“At that point in the draft, we are looking for the guy with the highest ceiling that we could possibly find,’’ Olshey said. “He’s really gifted.’’

Olshey said Simons will likely be an off-the-ball guard, but could someday develop into a point. The Blazers have established guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but have question marks behind them, as Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton are free agents and Wade Baldwin is working on a partially guaranteed contract. 

“But this was not a need pick, this was a pick as far as who had the highest ceiling,’’ Olshey said. “There are things he can do that can’t be replicated by a lot of guys in this draft. He just needs to get physically strong enough to do it against NBA competition and do it more consistently.’’

Trent, meanwhile, is more ready and Olshey said he hopes for him to contribute at some level next season. Trent was a McDonald’s All-American and has played for various Team USA teams.

“He’s been on track for this his whole life,’’ Olshey said.

Trent is 6-foot-6 and Olshey said he envisions him as a something between a shooting guard and small forward – needing to improve his quickness to guard elite shooting guards and “having to play up” to guard a small forward.

Many of the mock drafts had Trent being a mid-to-late first round pick. That he lasted to the 37th pick will stick with him.

“Chip on my shoulder? It’s more than that,’’ Trent said. “Going in the second round … I believe I was a first rounder. I’m going to have to come in and work and prove I belong, prove I can stay in this league and prove that I’m better than a second round pick. I’m up for that challenge.’’

Trent’s father played for the Blazers from 1995-1998, a coincidence not lost on the younger Trent.

“It’s crazy. That can’t be nothing but God’s work,’’ Trent said. “To put me in the same place that my dad played – it’s a surreal feeling. It’s unexplainable. Crazy to think about.’’ 

Trail Blazers keep it simple with Simons -- but why?

Trail Blazers keep it simple with Simons -- but why?

When I heard the Trail Blazers had selected Anfernee Simons with the No. 24 pick in the NBA draft Thursday night my first thought was that they turned this draft over to Paul Allen.

The Trail Blazer owner loves the draft, evaluating the prospects and enjoys projecting young players into the league.

And when it comes to young players, it’s simple … Simons. The most inexperienced player available – he spurned college for the IMG Academy – was the one that Portland chose. If you enjoy watching player development for a few years, this, by all accounts, is your man.

But this is a team that vowed it was in the hunt for older and more experienced players who could help this group navigate through the first round of the playoffs, right?

Well, no. Not with the draft. That stuff will have to come later on. Most scouting reports on Simons say he could someday turn out to be a very good player – but that day is not anytime soon. Perhaps two years away, in fact.

This is obviously not someone who fits the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum time line. He’s not going to provide immediate help -- unless Portland knows something about him that other teams don’t.

Draft choices often come with questions and Simons comes with the shortest one of all:

Why?

"He's got a really bright future. He works. He can dribble, he can pass, he can shoot, he's a high-level athlete, we know he's going to work," said Blazer president, basketball operations Neil Olshey. "His skillset translates and when the physical growth catches up to his natural God-given ability, he's going to be a really good player."

And when you are drafting 24th, it's sometimes best to take a chance on a player with a promising future rather than a mediocre present.

Blazers fans aren’t sure about Simons, but excited about Trent Jr.

Blazers fans aren’t sure about Simons, but excited about Trent Jr.

One of the best parts about the modern NBA draft is that NBA fans all around the world react to their teams selections instantly on Twitter and Facebook.

When the Portland Trail Blazers selected Anfernee Simons out of IMG with its No. 24 pick, Blazer fans were quick to react on social media.

Initially, there were mixed reviews on Simons.

Portland’s night wasn’t done after using its No. 24 pick. The Blazers made a trade with Sacramento in which the Blazers sent two future second-round picks for Gary Trent Jr. a 6'6'' guard out of Duke.

Once, the trade news broke, Rip City showed its love for Trent Jr.

 

Quick links for more on Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons:

Blazers make draft night trade for Gary Trent Jr.

Blazers Empire: Gary Trent Jr. now a Trail Blazer

Draft Profile: Gary Trent Jr. (6'6" Guard, Duke) 

Here is what we know about the Blazers first-round draft pick

Trail Blazers go young, select Anfernee Simons with 24th overall pick 

Blazers have the luxury to develop Simons 

Blazers trade picks for Gary Trent Jr.

Blazers trade picks for Gary Trent Jr.

The Trail Blazers Draft night might not be over:

Gary Trent Jr. is a 6'6'' guard out of Duke. Read his DRAFT PROFILE

Just after 9:30pm Thursday night, owner Paul Allen tweeted about the trade

The Trail Blazers spent the #24 pick on teenager Anferee Simons from IMG Academy earlier in the evening.

Trail Blazers go young, select Anfernee Simons with 24th overall pick

Trail Blazers go young, select Anfernee Simons with 24th overall pick

One of the NBA's youngest rosters became even younger on Thursday.

The Trail Blazers drafted 19-year-old guard Anfernee Simons with the 24th overall pick on Thursday, a move that perhaps signaled earlier in the week when the Blazers flew him into Portland for a second workout. 

Simons, who last season attended the renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., instead of  Louisville, is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard who is known for his shooting. 

Simons, who turned 19 on June 8, was taken over French guard Elie Okobo, who impressed with his shooting at his Blazers workout, and wings Khyri Thomas, Keita Bates-Diop, Jacob Evans and Dzanan Musa. 

Depth at guard was among the Blazers’ needs entering the draft. After starters Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Blazers have Wade Baldwin, and soon-to-be free agents Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton. 

The biggest question mark about Simons is his build. He is slight and in his second workout in Portland he was backed down by bigger, older guards. But Simons said he thinks he can contribute right away with his scoring. Besides guard depth, the Blazers also need shooting, and Simons is regarded as a good shooter. He made 45 percent of his three-pointers while playing for IMG Academy. 

He was originally slated to attend Louisville, but withdrew in September of 2017 after then-coach Rick Pitino was placed on administrative leave. 

He first worked out for the Blazers on June 4, then again on Tuesday. He was originally scheduled to workout for Memphis on Tuesday, but the Blazers made a late call and expressed interest. Memphis owned the 32ndpick, and the chance to workout for a first-round team swayed Simons. 

The Blazers entered the draft with the NBA's second youngest roster. 

 

2018 NBA Draft News and Updates

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USA Today

2018 NBA Draft News and Updates

The 2018 NBA Draft is here. Who will go number one? What will the Blazers do at 24? We will update you with all the latest information here, and be sure to follow us on Twitter for all the latest from the Trail Blazers practice facility. 

First Round

1. Phoenix - Deandre Ayton, 7'1", 250lb Center, Arizona


2. Sacramento - Marvin Bagley III, 6'11", 234lb Forward, Duke


3. Atlanta (Traded to Dallas) - Luka Doncic, 6'7", 218lb Guard/Forward, Real Madrid (Spain)


4. Memphis - Jaren Jackson Jr, 6'11", 242 lb Forward, Michigan State 


5. Dallas (Traded to Atlanta) - Trae Young, 6'2", 180lb Guard, Oklahoma


6. Orlando - Mohamed Bamba, 6'11", 225 Center, Texas


7. Chicago - Wendell Carter Jr, 6'10", 259 lb Forward, Duke 


8. Cleveland  (from Brooklyn via Boston) - Collin Sexton, 6'3", 190lb Guard, Alabama


9. New York - Kevin Knox, 6'9", 215lb Forward, Kentucky 


10. Philadelphia (from Los Angeles Lakers via Phoenix, the pick was later traded to the Suns) - Mikal Bridges, 6'7", 210lb Guard, Villanova 


11. Charlotte (Traded to the Clippers) - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6'6", 180lb Guard, Kentucky

Shai Gilgeous Alexander: athletic runs in his blood 


12. LA Clippers (from Detroit, traded to Charlotte) - Miles Bridges, 6'7", 225lbs Guard/Forward, Michigan State

Miles Bridges compared to former Blazer Jerome Kersey 


13. LA Clippers - Jerome Robinson, 6'6", 191lb Guard, Boston College 

BC's Jerome Robinson

14. Denver - Michael Porter Jr, 6'10", 215lb Forward, Missouri


15. Washington - Troy Brown, 6'7", 235lb Forward, Oregon

- Draft Profile - Troy Brown (6'7" F, Oregon)

- Empire - Oregon's Troy Brown

16. Phoenix (from Miami, traded to the 76ers) - Zhaire Smith, 6'5", 195lb Guard, Texas Tech

- Draft Profile - Zhaire Smith: a defensive minded guard 


17. Milwaukee - Donte DiVincenzo, 6'5", 205lb Guard, Villanova

- Draft Profile - Donte DiVincenzo (6'5'' Guard, Villanova)

- Empire - Donte DiVincenzo


18. San Antonio - Lonnie Walker, 6'5", 204lb Guard, Miami 

- Empire - Miami's Lonnie Walker


19. Atlanta (from Minnesota) - Kevin Huerter, 6'7", 190lb Guard, Maryland

- Draft Profile - 6'7 SG Kevin Huerter: A very versatile playmaker 


20. Minnesota (from Oklahoma City via Utah) - Josh Okogie, 6'4", 213lb Guard, Georgia Tech 

- Draft Profile - Josh Okogie (6'4" G, Georgia Tech)

- Draft Profile Video - Josh Okogie: 6'4" Guard, Georgia Tech

- Empire - Georgia Tech's Josh Okogie


21. Utah - Grayson Allen, 6'5", 205lb Guard, Duke


22. Chicago (from New Orleans)- Chandler Hutchison, 6'7", 197lb Guard, Boise State 

- Profile - Chandler Hutchison had been linked to Blazers even before the Combine 


23. Indiana - Aaron Holiday, 6'1", 185lb Guard, UCLA

- Draft Profile - Aaron Holiday (6'1'' PG, UCLA)

- Draft Profile Video - Aaron Holiday: It runs in the family 

-Empire - Aaron Holiday


24. Portland - Anfernee Simons, 6'4", 180lb Guard, IMG Academy 

- Draft Profile - Anfernee Simons (6'3'' Guard, IMG Academy)

- Draft Profile Video - Anfernee Simons,

- Blazers Empire - IMG Academy Anfernee Simons


25. Los Angeles Lakers (from Cleveland)
26. Philadelphia
27. Boston
28. Golden State
29. Brooklyn (from Toronto)
30. Atlanta (from Houston via LA Clippers)

Second Round

31. Phoenix
32. Memphis
33. Dallas
34. Atlanta
35. Orlando
36. New York (from Chicago via Oklahoma City)
37. Sacramento
38. Philadelphia (from Brooklyn)
39. Philadelphia (from New York)
40. Brooklyn (from Los Angeles Lakers via Toronto and Orlando)
41. Orlando (from Charlotte via Phoenix and Memphis)
42. Detroit
43. Denver (from LA Clippers via New York and Philadelphia)
44. Washington
45. Brooklyn (from Milwaukee)
46. Houston (from Miami via Memphis)
47. Los Angeles Lakers (from Denver via Chicago and Utah)
48. Minnesota
49. San Antonio
50. Indiana
51. New Orleans
52. Utah
53. Oklahoma City
54. Dallas (from Portland via Denver)
55. Charlotte (from Cleveland via Brooklyn and Philadelphia)
56. Philadelphia
57. Oklahoma City (from Boston)
58. Denver (from Golden State)
59. Phoenix (from Toronto)
60. Philadelphia (from Houston)

 

Watch: Neil Olshey post-draft press conference

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NBCS Northwest

Watch: Neil Olshey post-draft press conference

Watch as Neil Olshey addresses the media following the Trail Blazers 2018 NBA Draft. 

Neil Olshey Draft Press Conference

Posted by Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, June 21, 2018

 

Blazers finish pre-draft process with some buzz by inviting Anfernee Simons for second workout

Blazers finish pre-draft process with some buzz by inviting Anfernee Simons for second workout

The Trail Blazers on Tuesday finished their predraft workouts, but not before creating a stir with their final group.

Highlighting an otherwise non-descript group were two 19 year olds – guard Anfernee Simons, and Bosnian wing Dzanan Musa. 

The buzz was mostly created by Simons, the 19-year-old high-flying, slick-shooting guard, who cancelled a scheduled workout with Memphis in order to accept a second workout with the Blazers on Tuesday. 

“I feel like (Portland) wanted me more,’’ Simons said in explaining why he made the late switch. 

Of the 30 prospects the Blazers looked at this month, Simons is the only player to perform a second workout. The 6-foot-4 Florida native committed to Louisville, but bypassed college last season and trained at the renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton.

Simons (pronounced SIGH-Mons) said the Blazers join the Lakers (25thpick) and Orlando (35thpick) as the only teams to ask for a second workout. 

Meanwhile, Musa – a 6-foot-8 wing who played two seasons on the Bosnian national team with Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic – made the last of his six workouts on Tuesday. He says he can play both guard positions and small forward and possesses a level of passion that few, if any, prospects can claim.

Musa left his family at age 11 to attend a basketball academy for four years.. He later played professionally for four seasons.

“I have sacrificed almost everything for basketball,’’ Musa said. “I have that passion that I don’t think anyone has in my country or in this draft.’’

Musa has worked out for Denver (14thpick), San Antonio (18th), Utah (21), Indiana (23) and Brooklyn (29). The Blazers own the 24thpick.

But it was Simons’ return to Portland that created the most intrigue. 

He said the Blazers told him they liked him and wanted to see more of him, and judging from the limited availability of Tuesday’s workout, it appeared the Blazers wanted to see how he could handle himself against more physical guards. 

In his first workout on June 4, Simons went mostly against Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo and Duke’s Trevon Duval, both fellow teenagers who are also of slight build (Simons is 6-4, 180).

On Tuesday, Simons went mostly against Arkansas senior Jaylen Barford, who at 6-3, 202 is stronger and plays more physical than what Simons went against in the first workout. 

On one play, Barford was able to back down Simons into the key before Simons caromed off his body and out of bounds as Barford scored uncontested.

“The guard play was much better, a lot more physical,’’ Simons said. “So that was kind of a challenge.’’

Simons, who turned 19 earlier in June, said he knows his strength will be an issue, but he figures that will come with time.

“Obviously, I need to get stronger, and it’s going to take time to get stronger,’’ he said. “But I felt I held my own pretty well.’’

Well enough to earn the Blazers’ trust with the 24thpick? That will be the question come Thursday. If anything, he said the Blazers showed more interest than any other team.

“A couple of teams expressed lot of interest, but (the Blazers) are different,’’ Simons said. “They interacted with me more and tried to learn more about me off the court.’’

The Final Pre-Draft Workouts!

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NBCS NW

The Final Pre-Draft Workouts!

It's the final round of pre-draft workouts for the Trail Blazers and here's the rundown on who's at the practice facility today...

Jaylen Barford, 6'3'' Guard, Arkansas

Jacobi Boykins, 6'6'' Guard, Louisiana Tech

Brandon McCoy, 7'0'' Center, UNLV

Dzanan Musa, 6'8'' G/F, Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia)

Anfernee Simons, 6'4'' Guard, IMG Academy

Thomas Welsh, 7'0'' Center, UCLA