Being active in free agency does not mean you are making your team better. Offseason binges by general managers often look like a cry for help. It’s like when your mother gave you money to buy the Christmas gift you always wanted, but instead you went out and bought three gifts that you kind of wanted, hoping it would equate to that one special gift.
If you look around the NBA there are few teams with special gifts and a lot of teams with the money to buy it. With the second highest payroll in the NBA, Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey tried to fill the gap of a superstar caliber player with a bunch of flashy moves that evoke adjectives like “steal” or “sneaky good” from NBA insiders.
With a record of 21-28 and the worst defense in the association, the Blazers’ recent offseason exploits under Neil Olshey have made them sneaky bad in 2017.
Value is hard to judge in the NBA, especially with the influx of revenue courtesy of the recent television deal. The Blazers have been prepping themselves for spending big in the offseason since they drafted their young backcourt, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, in 2012 and 2013 respectively. On top of their young backcourt, the Blazers were able to take a flier on Allen Crabbe in the second round, which turned out to have been a steal up until this season. Then they got cute.
They will call it being proactive, unloading assets in hopes of finding similar talent at a cheaper price and higher upside but the Blazers didn’t plan on winning in 2016.
Planning ahead is good for doing a science fair project but risky in the NBA. With the draft being a crapshoot and the astronomical cap leveling free agent bidding wars, general managers are better off keeping the team that has consistently taken you to the playoffs rather than blowing it up. Just ask the Grizzlies.
Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum gave the Blazers too much on both ends to be replaced in the offseason by Noah Vonleh and one season of Gerald Henderson. The writing on the wall was there for LaMarcus Aldridge’s free agent departure since Damian Lillard became the star of the team. Getting nothing back for Aldridge and handing your entire team over to the modern day reincarnation of Stephon Marbury signaled the Blazer’s concession in 2016.
After replacing their core players in 2016 with Moe Harkless, Mason Plumlee, and Al Farouq Aminu at a bargain, the Blazers were clearly ready to lose last season. In a perfect world, they would draft in the lottery in 2016 and take Khris Dunn or Brandon Ingram to lighten Damian Lillard’s load on defense.
Last season wasn’t perfect for the Blazers, but it was perfect enough. Playing the role of overachievers, the Blazers played well with Damian Lillard and his Bay Area sized chip on the shoulder, and sharpshooting sixth man C.J. McCollum who was inserted as a starter, earning Most Improved Player honors.
McCollum’s emergence allowed Portland to believe they could rival Golden State’s backcourt. After seeing both Lillard and McCollum go off on the Clippers and Warriors in the playoffs, Portland decided McCollum’s play warranted the Lehigh product a 4 year deal worth $100 million dollars. Without the ability to defend, McCollum is slowly fitting into the Monta Ellis mold of a high scoring undersized two-guard that can’t play a lick of defense.
This entire offseason, the Blazers thought they were one move away from contending. Instead of being players in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes or making a run at Paul Millsap, they decided to circumvent the one big move they could make for smaller significant moves with the additions of Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. Through these signings, the Blazers fell victim to the oldest lie in the NBA: Bench players in contract years are worth $70 million dollars.
On paper, the Turner signing takes pressure off their dynamic backcourt and allows them to play off ball. In reality that only works if Turner could shoot and either Lillard or McColumn could defend.
Ezeli hasn’t played at all this season due to knee surgery and long term could be another case of an injury riddled big that can’t be relied on for heavy minutes.
Then, the Blazers compounded their lapse of judgement by giving Allen Crabbe $70 million to score 10 points a game and come off the bench. No longer signed as a second round pick, his value decreases as a $70 million dollar sixth man.
The Blazers are in a compromising position with their extension of CJ McCollum and are now lacking any commodities teams would trade assets for. Tyson Chandler would be a significant upgrade defensively over Mason Plumlee, but the corpse of Al-Farouq Aminu wouldn’t suffice as the only contract of similar value for the Suns. Moe Harkless would be a nice trade chip, especially if Portland could poach a few wings off the Nuggets in Gary Harris or Wilson Chandler.
In the short term, Neil Olshey will most likely have the Blazers fighting for playoff contention until season’s end. In the long term, Olshey has limited the ceiling for the team with their lack of expendable players of value.
photo via llannaba