free agency

Seven fits for the Portland Trail Blazers in free agency

usatsi_12627694.jpg
USA Today Images

Seven fits for the Portland Trail Blazers in free agency

The Portland Trail Blazers are in a tough spot moving into this postseason. They have a significant amount of cap space committed to core players, including Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. Navigating the NBA's endless list of CBA rules can be tiring, and general manager Neil Olshey and his front office staff have their work cut out for them.

The 2019 summer free agent class is going to be an epic one, but once again Portland will need to go hunting for value — they won't be in the running for the bigger names. For starters, Olshey will need to decide which of his four big free agents he wants to bring back. Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood, Jake Layman and Seth Curry all need new deals.

Layman will likely return to Portland because he’s cheap. The Maryland product is a restricted free agent, and I'm not sure how much outside interest there will be i him given he's not quite a knockdown 3-point shooter just yet. Curry, returning from a leg injury last year, played to the level Portland wanted him to. Unfortunately, that also means he’s going to be too expensive for what the Blazers can afford.

The real question comes in Aminu and Hood.

Aminu had a descending deal that was smartly set up in 2015 by Olshey, but his performance this year was not up to par. As a starter with this roster, Aminu doesn’t cut it. He simply doesn't shoot the ball well enough, and he’s not a threat as a dribbler. This is an issue made worse when the other wings — Moe Harkless and Evan Turner — also struggled to shoot the ball.

Still, Portland has Aminu’s Bird rights, which means they can go above the salary cap to offer him a new deal. Even if the Blazers give Aminu a raise, having him on the team next year is better than scrimping a few pennies and replacing him with a minimum salary-level player.

Hood is where this whole thing gets sticky. If the team makes some expected moves — including re-signing Aminu — the Blazers will end up with the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to spend. That would mean $5.7 million for a player in the first year of his contract. But Hood is going to demand more than that in the open market, even if he gives the Blazers a discount. The former Utah Jazz first round pick is worth more than $8 million a season.

That’s a difficult mark for Olshey to reach, because at his best he’ll only be able to find a little more than that. There’s no reasonable way for the Blazers to have <em>real</em> cap space this summer, and so the full Mid-Level Exception is how Portland would give Hood a fair market contract. Now that Portland has traded Turner for Kent Bazemore, it might just make Hood expendable should he demand his full market value.

Portland should also have use of the bi-annual exception, since they didn’t use theirs last year. That gives them another $3.62 million to spend, probably on Curry’s replacement.

So we’re left with a lot of potential options but not much money to spend on them. As such, here are nine interesting players, at various mid-level exception levels, that Portland could benefit from in free agency.

Rodney Hood — Taxpayer MLE

Hood played well to end the season, adding several impressive playoff performances to his resume. He recovered from a disastrous postseason run in 2017-18, when he was dealing with the birth of twins. Hood has apparently re-discovered his love of the game in Rip City. He was a useful 3-point shooter, and at 6-foot-8 he’s big enough to defend at least three positions on the wing.

Stanley Johnson — Taxpayer MLE

Johnson is a younger small forward whose stock has dropped a bit since coming out of Arizona in 2015. He’s a poor 3-point shooter at this juncture, but a decent enough defender and shows flashes of being able to score enough to invest in. He’s a big body, and if the Blazers punt on Harkless he might be able to fill that gap defensively.

Reggie Bullock — Taxpayer MLE

Bullock is a career 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc, and at 6-foot-7 he can switch between a couple defensive positions. He’s a good defender, with good marks against spot-up shooting, hand offs, and isolation plays. He’s probably reached his limit on potential at age 28, but Portland needs to fill the gaps. Guys here don’t all have to be Blazers in five years.

Wayne Ellington — Taxpayer MLE

Ellington was floated as a potential target for Portland last year. He’s a good 3-point shooter, and excels in both spot-up roles and in hand off plays, two things the Blazers need from this cap space. Ellington also doesn’t get enough credit as a defender, but his Synergy statistics suggest he could be quite staunch for Portland.

James Ennis — Bi-Annual Exception

Ennis is a small forward who might fit with the Blazers in a limited role. That’s OK if he’s taking their bi-annual exception money, and even that might be too much to spend on the 28-year-old. He’s a decent enough shooter, although he’ll struggle on defense given too much to do.

Quincy Pondexter — Bi-Annual Exception

Pondexter finally had a year befitting of his natural talents with the San Antonio Spurs last year. He’s a shooter who plays two positions, and although he was impressive on both sides of the ball in 2018-19, those numbers are likely to be looked at as a product of the San Antonio system, especially at his age of 31. That should keep the market on Pondexter from being driven up, and Portland could be buyers.

Anthony Tolliver — Taxpayer MLE

Like Ross, Tolliver feels like a player who’s been floated in Portland circles for ages. He’s 34 years old, but as a career 37 percent 3-point shooter Tolliver is going to age into contracts if he still wants them. Tolliver ranked reasonably well for his age last season against the pick-and-roll according to Synergy. He also consistently plays more than 60 games a year, so he could contribute if the Blazers let Enes Kanter go.

NBA makes changes to free agency moratorium period

NBA makes changes to free agency moratorium period

No more waiting until 12am Eastern Time on July 1st to see where your favorite players are heading. The NBA has officially announced that the moratorium period, the period in which teams can officially start negotiations with free agents,  will be moved back to 6pm Eastern Time on June 30th. 

According to the release, teams will also be able to officially contact free agents at 6pm on June 29th, but only to officially schedule meetings at or after 6pm on June 30th. 

The six-hour time change does away with an antiquated way of dealing with free agents and moves to a more reasonable hour for not only the players and their agents, but for the fans watching and the media covering free agency.

For those of us in the Portland area, we can now see who the Blazers are bringing in off the market starting at 3pm local time on June 30th. Not bad, not bad at all. Schedule your vacations or lunch breaks accordingly. 

Stay ahead of your Trail Blazers this off-season.Get Local Trail Blazers coverage, in-depth articles, podcast, videos and more.Download the app, log-in and the Blazers are at your fingertips. Download Now 

Get to know Nik Stauskas

nik_stauskas.jpg
nbcsnw

Get to know Nik Stauskas

According to Chris Haynes of ESPN, free agent shooting guard Nik Stauskas has agreed to a one-year deal with the Trail Blazers. 

Don't know who Stauskas is? Here are some quick bullet points to get you up to speed. Let's get to know Nik Stauskas: 

  • He is from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada - about 30 minutes west of Toronto. Mississauga is also the birthplace of Memphis Grizzlies guard, and former Oregon Ducks star, Dillon Brooks. 
  • Played college basketball at Michigan, where he was teammates with current NBA players Glenn Robinson III, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Caris LeVert 
  • He played two seasons for the Wolverines, averaging 14.1 points, 2.3 assists per game, and was named second-team AP All-American in 2013-14
  • Drafted 8th overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2014.
  • Has played for the Kings, 76ers, Nets, and now the Blazer
  • Holds NBA career averages of 7.0 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. He has also shot 35% from deep for his career
  • Shot a career-best 40% (40/100) from three-point range last season
  • Earned the nickname “ Sauce Castillo” due to a closed captioning error on a broadcast. A fan pointed it out on Twitter, and the nickname stuck
  • Doesn't know who Chewbacca is

 

 

 

What if LeBron heads West?

lebrongoeswest.png
NBCS NW

What if LeBron heads West?

The odds are out on where LeBron James will play next season, and his decision could have a huge impact on the Western Conference. James could still exercise his $35.6 million player-option and return to Cleveland, but the more likely scenario is to decline the option and hit the open market. 

According to the odds, the Lakers, Rockets, and Spurs are the three most likely teams in the Western Conference to land him. Here is how they can do it, and how it would impact the conference in 2018-19.

Lakers: +200

The Lakers currently hold the best odds of any team in the NBA to land LeBron James and will be heading into free agency with more cap space than any other team in the league. The Lakers will have enough free money that they can add James as well as another star, most likely Paul George.  Then the question is, do you keep Lonzo Ball or do you strike while the iron is hot, sell high, and trade him to bring in vets to complete the roster? Either way, a Lakers team built around James and George would all but assure the Lakers would end their playoff drought.

How it affects the West - Last season just two games separated the three seed Blazers from the eight seed Timberwolves, with the Nuggets dropping to ninth in the final game of the season.  A revamped Lakers squad would instantly be in the playoff mix, meaning any team that made playoffs last season (not named the Warriors or Rockets) would most likely end 2019 on the outside looking in.  

Rockets: +275

Houston is also a favorite to add James, but the Rockets would have to shake up the roster for it to happen. Chris Paul is heading to free agency and could be looking to make more than the $24.6 million he made last season. Star center Clint Capela is also hitting the open market. Capela made just $2.3 million last season and has a giant raise coming his way. That doesn’t leave a lot of money to sign James.

The Rockets may have to find ways to free up Ryan Anderson ($19.6mil), Eric Gordon ($12.9mil) and P.J. Tucker ($7.6mil) to make it all happen. Houston would have one heck of a starting five, but not much of a bench. Either way, they would still be a favorite to win the title in 2019.

How it affects the West - James to Houston wouldn’t impact the standings as much as James to the Lakers would, but it would most certainly make it a two horse race to the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets were penciled into the Western Conference Finals this season, and with James added to the roster you might as well use a permanent marker. The real impact would be in how teams adjust. If the Western Conference turns into Golden State, Houston, and everybody else (which you could argue it is already), you could really see some playoff caliber teams enter rebuild mode in an attempt to be ready for the post-Warriors/Rockets era. 

Spurs: +1000

The Spurs would be an intriguing landing spot simply to see what happens when the best player in the game gets paired up with the best coach in the game. However, like the Rockets, San Antonio is in a tough financial situation.

Tony Parker is hitting free agency, freeing up $15.5 million, while Rudy Gay and Danny Green could free up another $18.8 million combined if they both choose not to exercise their player options. If Gay and Green exercise their options, then you will most likely see the Spurs push hard to trade Patty Mills ($10mil) and Pau Gasol ($16mil) to free up space.

How it affects the West - A core of James, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge would instantly make the Spurs a top three team in the Western Conference. The Spurs finished seventh last season, and vaulting to three would mean a team like the Blazers could end up missing the playoffs when it’s all said and done.

The Spurs would also make it a lot tougher for the Warriors and Rockets to make a repeat trip to the conference finals.

 

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

Yes, the Blazers made a Paul George run and I'm happy they didn't get him

As I sit back and watch another free-agent frenzy unfold in the NBA, I wish I could tell you where this is all going.

It seems to me there's a pretty good chance that in just a few seasons, nearly every team in the league that matters is going to be capped out. If there's money available under the cap, teams spend like a lottery's instant millionaires. It appeared the Trail Blazers dished out some pretty spendy deals last summer, but -- just as Neil Olshey said -- those deals look commonplace or even cheap compared to what's going on this year.

Yes, Allen Crabbe is going to be making about $18.5 million a season for the next three seasons. Maurice Harkless a little over $10 million for each of the next three, Evan Turner about $18 million a season and Meyers Leonard a little over $10 million per year.

Well, if you haven't noticed, Taj Gibson is going to be getting about $14 million a year over the next two years, Serge Ibaka about $21 million per season over the next three, Amir Johnson has a one-year deal for $11 million, Joe Ingles is going to earn $13 million a year over the next four, J.J. Redick has a one-year deal for $23 million and how about Jrue Holiday getting $25 million a year for the next five seasons?

And yes, Portland tied up Damian Lillard at an average of about $28 million a year over the next four seasons and CJ McCollum for a little more than $25 million a season over the next four years. Those deals are already looking like a bargain.

Paul Millsap just signed for three years at $90 million with Denver. Good player, but wow. Blake Griffin is going to get $173 million over the next five (probably injury-riddled) seasons with the Clippers. Kyle Lowry is going to be getting a total of $100 million over the next three seasons and Steph Curry is reported to be getting $201 million over the next five years.

Whew!

The NBA has become Escalation Station as far as salaries are concerned. It has always been that way, too. I can recall back in the 1980s when I was covering the team for The Oregonian, a young player actually called me when he signed his second contract, so excited he just couldn't keep the dollar figure a secret. "I'm getting two million over four years," he said. "I'm a millionaire."

About a year later, after inflation did its usual thing, that deal didn't look very sweet after all.

"I'm playing for chump change," he told me. "I'm getting screwed."

True story.

And as the numbers go up, the ability to shed salaries and clear cap space becomes more important. The Trail Blazers have work to do in that area but remember, when you do that, you usually lose players with some degree of talent -- which has an impact on team performance.

"Cap Space" doesn't look any better running up and down the court than "Cash Considerations."

Everyone was excited for Portland to go all-in on the Paul George Sweepstakes -- which it did. Olshey's offer of all three first-round picks in the recent draft PLUS a player of Indiana's choosing outside the Big Three was probably the real deal, although I did hear that it could have ended up with the Pacers choosing two players rather than one.

That would clear cap space when George departed a year from now. I know a lot of fans would have been overjoyed with a George deal -- a lot of them seemed ecstatic at the prospect of a season of futility chasing Golden State at the cost of long-range goals. For me, I'm fine with the two draft picks. I think there's a real chance at least one of them will pop. At some point, salaries will be dumped and that will mean their talent will go out the door with them.

As I said, I can only guess where this is going -- in Portland or the rest of the league. But I'm more convinced than ever that the great baseball general manager Bill Veeck was so prescient when he said many decades ago, "It isn't the high price of stars that is expensive, it's the high price of mediocrity."