(UPDATED with acquisition of Mario Hezonja)
The Trail Blazers Sunday wanted to make a run at the two free agents they added at last season’s trade deadline and they came away with an agreement with one of them, swingman Rodney Hood, who agreed to take their taxpayer mid-level exception. It is a two-year deal starting at $5.7 million and going to $6 million in the second year, with a player option.
It's a big coup for Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. Hood had been sold on the culture, his teammates, the coaching staff, the front office and the city itself last season and he made that clear several times. And it paid off with a player who it seemed would be in line for a bigger deal than he got from the Trail Blazers.
Portland also added another small forward to its roster, reaching agreement with 6-8, 225-pound Mario Hezonja to a minimum contract. Hezonja, 24, from Croatia, was the fifth player selected in the first round of the 2015 draft by Orlando. He started 24 games for the New York Knicks last season and averaged 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. He agreed to a one-year deal with the Blazers.
Players are not allowed to actually sign until noon, eastern time, on July 6 but can agree to terms of a deal now. Team personnel are not allowed to comment on their agreements or specific players until after the July 6 deadline.
The other free agent Portland signed at the trade deadline last season, Enes Kanter, was still unsigned late Sunday and the Trail Blazers went into Sunday night still trying to add another center to their roster. It is believed that Kanter is still waiting for the Lakers, who will have loads of cap room if they fail in their attempt to sign Kawhi Leonard. Wherever he ends up, Kanter is likely to earn more than Portland could pay him.
The only avenue open to the Blazers to add a player now would be to sign another free agent to a minimum contract or make a trade, either for a player already on a team or do a sign-and-trade with a free agent. It is believed they are still searching for a center who can hold down the position until Jusuf Nurkic returns from a broken leg.
Hood came from the Cleveland Cavaliers and played his first game for the Trail Blazers on Feb. 7. He played 27 regular-season games, averaging 9.6 points per game. In 16 playoff games he averaged 9.9 points and came up big in the critical four-overtime win over Denver in the second round, scoring 19 points and carrying his team through the final extra period.
He came off the bench and played small forward and off-guard and did his best work taking smaller players into the post and scoring over them.
When he arrived in Portland he was excited about a fresh start with a new team:
“Just be me. Get back to being me like I did a couple of years ago, just play my game. Coach Stotts lets you play your game and that’s a big reason why I was attracted to here,” Hood told NBC Sports Northwest's Jamie Hudson.
The Blazers lost Al-Farouq Aminu, who has been reported to have agreed to a four-year deal with Orlando, but Portland did agree to terms with Damian Lillard on a supermax contract that will pay him $196 million over four seasons when it kicks in after two more seasons.
The search for a center could take awhile and a few players hoping to get more than the minimum will likely hold firm for at least a few days.