The Portland Trail Blazers approached NBA Free Agency just like they have every year. They are always looking for an influx of talent, but have realistic expectations given the resources they have.
As Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said before Portland and Miami tipped off on Thursday evening, it’s just the “Jody Allen approach.”
“Jody doesn’t let the finances impact basketball decisions, no different than Paul,” Olshey said. “When I came here, I said I wanted to be with an organization where profit was a byproduct of winning, not the other way around. We have always had the resources and it’s never gotten in the way of making a transaction.
"We are going for it.”
The Trail Blazers indeed went for it on Thursday, going all in on “win now” mode by acquiring Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for third-year guard Gary Trent Jr. and veteran Rodney Hood.
Powell is averaging a career-best 19.6 points per game and is currently 10th in the NBA in three-point shooting at 43.9%. The 27-year-old will be tasked with creating a spark of energy on the defensive end.
While it’s not the blockbuster trade Portland fans dreamt of, it’s a move that Olshey believes will ultimately make his squad better. It’s not about playing free agency safe; it’s about pondering the right move that will further the team’s success.
“I think what people have to realize is, when you are committed to a super-max player, and another max player in CJ McCollum, then you start playing around the edges,” Olshey said. “You look at the rosters around the league, it’s very rare to have the three, max level players. I mean obviously, if you can consolidate and aggregate guys into that guide, that’s great. But it takes two to make a market...
Olshey says the Trail Blazers are always on the hunt for a deal in which brings in a player from another market who is undervalued, whereas Portland values them, wants to develop them, retain them, and put them in an environment to maximize their ability.
“We are always waiting for that one deal, but if you really look at how those deals are constructed and how they come about, they either come out of a team that is looking to rebuild and give people away and they’re looking for draft assets,” Olshey said. “And one of the challenges, right, when you win, is your draft picks and future picks are not as valuable. They're not. Who wants a pick in the mid-20s every year? You want the sexy pick for a team that is going the other way.
“You go to teams that have a ton of cap room, well you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have Dame, CJ and a really good roster, but also think you are going to have $40 million in cap room. It doesn’t work that way. So, what you have to do is put together the best team you can, the most competitive team you can, be opportunistic long-term, try to build an infrastructure of good young players.”
The transaction didn’t come without a price for the Trail Blazers. Trent Jr., who is one of the NBA’s up-and-coming talents, has yet to fully reach his potential in year 3. Hood returned after having Achilles surgery in 2020, but we’ll never know if his effective play as witnessed in the 2019 NBA playoffs could have resurfaced in Rip City.
Olshey notes, however, without the development of players like Trent Jr. a move in acquiring Powell may have never come to fruition.
“When you look at the Norman Powell deal, if Gary Trent wasn’t a really good young player on a rookie-scale contract that we found in the second round, we wouldn’t have had the ability to do this deal,” Olshey said. “So, that is where the development of your young players. Either they grow into increased roles within the franchise, or they have the ability to attract interests from other teams that are going in another direction. If you want to win and maximize your roster every year, sometimes you don’t have the ability to step back and have a top-five pick.
With the trade, Portland now has two open roster spots. The team is expected to be active on the buyout front. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Thursday that the Blazers are said to be in the mix for LaMarcus Aldridge, who reached a buyout with the Spurs.
Following Portland’s 125-122 victory over Miami on Thursday night, the Blazers (26-18) are tied for sixth place in the Western Conference with the Denver Nuggets.