As Trail Blazer fans’ attention turns to free agency and what their team will do with its mid-level exception, it’s important to issue the usual reminders about Portland’s relationship with free agents.
It hasn’t been good and that will likely continue. Take a look at the Portland roster and you’ll see that this franchise has had to build through the draft and trades -- not free agency. Neil Olshey has been able to fill in around the edges with free agents, but not the blue-chippers.
You have heard all the reasons, but let me review them for you and add a couple more:
- Geography, This is not the warm-weather location many players seek, but even more important, the Trail Blazers are an isolated franchise. A good portion of their road trips are long ones, as opposed to a franchise in Denver, for example, which never has to take a trip as long as many of Portland’s. That matters.
- Our city is not exactly the Las Vegas of the Northwest. There is not a lot of nightlife for wealthy young players.
- Taxes. The city passed a few more ballot measures recently and it’s possible to make the case that, along with the state income tax, these players are going to be paying higher taxes than anybody else in the league. That matters a lot.
Now, let me mention a couple of recent additions. First, the descriptions of Portland’s “violent” demonstrations recently aren’t going to attract a lot of people to our city, whether they be basketball players or accountants. It’s not the kind of “nightlife” that appeals to people.
And one more thing. The free-agent period used to fall in the summer, when you could take a prospective player on a tour of this beautiful area, bathed in sun. It’s impressive. But the free-agency period is not sun-baked this time around.
You make that city tour right now and a prospective Blazer player is going to ask you where the nearest “Arks ‘R’ Us” store is located.
That said, Portland has had success keeping its own free agents. Players who have been here for a while have a chance to experience all the good things this city and the franchise bring. And many of them want to stay and even raise their families here. The team makes it a very comfortable situation for its players. They are treated well here.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum signed extensions, as many others have done. Rodney Hood sampled the situation for a brief time and quickly declared he wanted to stay.
And all this is leading up to my feeling that when you scan the list of available free agents, you must remember that the Trail Blazers have often had to overpay, even for mediocrity, in that market.
Players who are accustomed to earning $20 million a year aren’t going to come to Portland for half that. It’s not going to happen. If Olshey lands a big name with a MLE, people should be dancing in the streets -- with their rain gear in place, of course.
But I would suggest there are a couple of players out there who would make sense in this situation. Former Portland center and cult hero Robin Lopez just opted out of a $5 million-a-year deal in Milwaukee.
He liked Portland, by all accounts, and appreciated its quirkiness. In fact, he was a key part in keeping Portland weird. Would he want another run here?
I have no idea. But it would make sense. He would be a quality backup center with toughness and a familiarity with the system and its players. I have no idea if it will happen, but I do know it makes sense.
There is another option, of course. If Carmelo Anthony could reconcile a lesser and uncertain role on the squad, he would be a candidate. Particularly if the team offered him the bi-annual exception ($3.6 million). He's said he wishes to return, but he may find another team that could guarantee him more playing time.
I think Portland fans would welcome either or both players.