It’s every Portland Trail Blazers fan’s worst nightmare; starters & reserves alike are being traded away while others have reportedly expressed interest in leaving once the Free Agency period starts in less than a week. Damian Lillard is the only starting player who is guaranteed throughout next season. Nicolas Batum is working for Michael Jordan in a #5 Charlotte Hornets jersey. Arron Afflalo has already declared to test the market. Our highest paid player currently on the team? It’s… Well, it’s the newly acquired Gerald Henderson.
Blazers fans all around me are panicking, and there’s one word that sets them off; Rebuild. You know, rebuilding. A team overhaul; where we spend year upon year rebuilding a team with high draft picks and low records. Let me admit this to you Portland, we are rebuilding. But let the panic stop there. Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey is trying to work a miracle, and he has all the proper tools available to do so.
Let me start off by saying this; The NBA Free Agency period has yet to begin, meaning that nearly everything here, aside from previously made trades, is pure speculation. We don’t know if LaMarcus Aldridge will buy his ticket out of Rip City quite yet. Nobody knows where Wesley Matthews will be playing next year, except for maybe Wesley Matthews. We have no idea whether we’ll see Robin Lopez in a black, red & white #42 jersey ever again. With that said, I want to prepare the Blazer faithful for the worst possible scenario in regards to the possibility of our starting lineup, aside from Lillard, finding new homes this summer. Luckily, Neil Olshey is doing the same. What Neil Olshey is attempting to do here is what I like to call a “soft-rebuild.”
Like I said before, we’re preparing for the worst possible scenario, so let’s go ahead and say that Aldridge, Matthews, and Lopez all skip town. Batum is already in Charlotte, so now, theoretically, that leaves us with one true starter in Damian Lillard. Don’t panic just yet, because Olshey’s biggest available tool here is the best one could ask for; money, and lots of it. In the event that we lose these 3 to free agency, we are sitting high on $42 million dollars to spend. First, before we get into the mess of Free Agency, let’s discuss draft night and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was a Trail Blazer for about an hour.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Blazers fans become so quickly attached to a late-round newly-drafted player. I guess he was the guy that everyone wanted, so when the trade that sent our defensive-minded rookie to Brooklyn happened, it was sour apples for Blazers fans. I, on the other-hand, was ecstatic. We traded our #23 draft pick, and our 35-year-old veteran point guard Steve Blake for an athletic pick & roll-loving center in Mason Plumlee, as well as athletic scorer, Pat Connaughton, drafted #41 in the 2015 draft, who lead the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the Elite 8 just months ago. In my opinion, and the opinions of various other NBA experts online, we definitely won this trade. We traded for a starter-caliber center in Plumlee who plays the style that our new cornerstone, Damian Lillard, likes to play. He’s high-flying, plays the pick & roll, and has continued to develop year after year. Not to mention that he’s still on his small rookie contract. Connaughton, on the other hand, is a deceptively athletic freak who can shoot the ball with precision. The 6’5″ Notre Dame guard put up some of the best numbers at the NBA Combine, where he surprised scouts with 1st place scores for max vertical leap, standing vertical leap, lane agility, and 3/4 shuttle court. He has the potential to be the steal of the draft. Also added to the Trail Blazers is Spanish forward, Daniel Diez, the 54th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, traded over from the Utah Jazz for cash considerations, whom the Blazers scouting staff seem to have very high hopes for.
Au revoir to Nicolas Batum, and his $13 million dollar contact, who was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for veteran swingman Gerald Henderson and 19-year-old power forward Noah Vonleh. Love him or hate him, Nicolas Batum was undeniably a big part of this Trail Blazers roster. With that said, so was his contract, and the fact that he could leave next off-season, awarding the Trail Blazers nothing in return, when his contract expires. Henderson has proven himself as defender, slasher, and mid-range shooter. Being straight-forward, I think that he’s a great off-the-bench role player, but a lackluster starter. With so much off-season left, his spot in the rotation, and even on the team (trade bait?) is still in question. Likewise for the young Hoosier now entering his 2nd year in the National Basketball Association, Noah Vonleh. His potential has been refereed to as “incredible” and “unparalleled” thanks to his athletic gifts, length, and knack for the sport that had him drafted 9th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Did I mention that Vonleh is only 19-years-old? Because he’s 19-years-old, the 5th youngest player currently on an NBA roster.
The next process comes in 4 days; the NBA Free Agency period. This is when we may begin to learn the future whereabouts of Aldridge, Matthews, and Lopez. This is where we will potentially have $42 million dollars to spend. Neil Olshey will look to rebuild a team around Damian Lillard in one off-season, and he’s certainly done a great job so far. This Free Agency period is a star-studded one, with a large cast of restricted & unrestricted free agents alike. Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Monta Ellis, Gerald Green, Danny Green, and Paul Millsap, just to name a few. So if things do end up going wrong in our pursuit of resigning Iron Man & the L-Train, the options for replacement are as nearly endless as one could hope for in an NBA Free Agency period. Kevin Love, who has opted out of his option in Cleveland, would seemingly be a perfect fit, minutes away from his hometown in Lake Oswego. Monta Ellis, Gerald Green, and Danny Green could all bring the explosive scoring needing for the SG/SF position. A full list of daily-updated free agents can be found, courtesy of hoopsrumors.com, at www.hoopsrumors.com/2013/09/201516-nba-free-agents.html.
For now, there is just too much uncertainty to map out a simple plan for the Free Agency period with the information we currently have. The options are endless, depending on the minds of 2 certain Trail Blazers, as well as 29 other NBA General Managers. Yes Portland, we are rebuilding. But this isn’t a typical rebuilding process. This isn’t going to be years and years of harvesting draft picks and tossing around small-piece trades. This is an explosive off-season of constant trades and free agent signings, where Neil Olshey may have to try to do the impossible; rebuild a team around a 2-time NBA All-Star point guard and, once again, put the Portland Trail Blazers in NBA Championship title contention, all in less than 4 months.
Admit it Portland, we have found ourselves in a rebuilding process. But under Neil Olshey, this won’t be any rebuilding process you’ve ever seen. This will be a 4-month rebuilding process under a man who could potentially put himself down in the books as one the best GM’s Portland has ever had.