The Portland Trail Blazers had what most would call one of the most spectacular and unlikely seasons in NBA history. The difference between pre-season expectations and how things ultimately developed was evidently ridiculous, astounding and amazing … and well … it's over.
As much as I stay this season, probably forever, I'm changing to the off-season and I look forward to what's to come. While some may think that it is too fast, it is already happening around us: combined draft, invitations to camps, free agency plans, etc., so I felt that this was the time to explain how I am seeing this season low.
1. A big fish (how big remains to be seen): can you land it?
Are the Blazers really invested in this core group? Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and when he returns, Jusuf Nurkic certainly seems to be formidable. But are they enough to fight for a title, even if the Golden State Warriors lose some of their star power this season? There is a strong argument that Portland would still fall short, so who could they add to their list to strengthen their squad? Do the Blazers have the necessary resources to get this player? Are they willing to pay a premium to make this happen, as the Philadelphia 76ers did with Jimmy Butler?
Portland is willing to risk the financial viability of the franchise, the ability to create a team that is even remotely competitive in a couple of years if they trade for Blake Griffin? It is a heavy risk / reward situation.
This is where Portland is when it comes to its rotation players and their cap space commitments with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Moe Harkless, Zach Collins, Leonard Meyers, Jusuf Nurkic and Evan Turner as their seven key rotation players , and Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Skal Labissiere as their project players.
What brings us to …
2. Who are the rehabilitation projects?
The Blazers have done a great job in the search and exploitation of the margins, without more success than last season there. Just look at Seth Curry, Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter: Curry was picked as a free agent after being out of basketball for a year. Hood, as it could have been, wasting in purgatory basketball in Cleveland, and the same can be said of Kanter. However, they are the exceptions, not the rule. Rarely will you find high-caliber rotation players in places where you can simply pull them out and add them for little or no cost.
Establishing who these guys are this year becomes incredibly important to the depth of next year's team. Consider what the common threads have been here: players who have been up and down, have shown signs of promise or have left the rotation, and have applied those ideas to players in the next generation of free agents. If you're interested in adding another type of armor and sliding Simons off guard, maybe look at Trey Burke. Troy Daniels, a phenomenal shooter, Alec Burks (who could be very much like Hood last year), or if you feel especially lucky, Dragan Bender!
Speaking of feeling lucky!
The Draft is how the Blazers have been built since Day 1. As a small market team on the northwest border, this is how it has always been. It remains to be seen if Portland maintains its choice to add it to the closet (one that is very empty) or use it in concert with other assets. If Portland is going to make a move, I would expect it to be early to free up space or allow the next domino to fall into place. Portland is not a team that can withstand the deadline.
4. Secondary trades
Making a move around the margin is easier when you have the bodies and assets in place to do so. At this time, Portland has 10 players under contract, 3 of them are Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Skal Labissiere (they combined to play 1.62% of the total minutes available last season). Portland does not have the depth and / or experience on her side at this time. If Portland is going to move one of its expired contracts, it has to meet some goals: create space in the limit, attract talent and allow future movements. It's a difficult question, but those are the waters that have to navigate now.
5. Flexibility of the lid (see the graphic above)
This is completely out of the window if Portland chooses to bring a top-level asset and completely switch to the "go for it" mode. Otherwise, Portland must be careful when dealing with expired contracts, making sure they can get as much capital as possible so they can replenish and try again. One thing that Portland must keep in mind is what Lillard's superdelato deal may or may not mean for McCollum's future once his contract expires. Asset management will have to be very strict for the immediate future if Portland can not get out much of this off-season and much of that will be the way they manage the limit.
That's my 30,000-foot vision of how I'm seeing this off-season so far. As the weeks and events progress, I will go into more and more details. Let us know in the comments below what you think: how will you enter this off season?