This summer could make or break it for the Portland Trail Blazers as the organization should be able to capitalize on having anywhere from $19.9 million to $25.9 million to spend on a wide variety of free agents. The Blazers are looking to move forward after a highly disappointing 2011-12 season that saw the loss of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, firing of Nate McMillan and a mid-season collapse that ended three-straight playoff appearances.
Even without a legit General Manager or coach, the Blazers have two first round picks and should be able to do some serious damage by loading up during the draft, luring some free agents, or possibly making a blockbuster trade. Portland hasn’t been the number one destination for superstar players due in part to the rain, questionable front office, and more rain, but the Blazers will have the space and money to bring a big name or two to go alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. Those big names might be enough to bring the team back into playoff contention.
The major concerns for the Blazers this off season are at point and center. The usual. Not a lot of luck in those departments over the past years as Portland has gone through good-but-not-good-enough point guards in Steve Blake, Andre Miller, and Raymond Felton.
Portland has had worse luck with centers. Everyone knows that. Greg Oden the number one overall pick from the 2007 Draft out of Ohio State, played only 82 games in five total seasons. Portland finally cut ties with GO this season.
There are a few big names on the list of available free agents this year, and a couple All-Stars that Portland will no doubt have their eyes on. Here are just a few of those free agents (and one possible trade candidate) that the Blazers should really consider getting some early calls into:
One point guard that Blazers fans probably wouldn’t mind seeing suit up in Portland is Mr. Steve Nash, the guru of point guards and distributing. As an unrestricted free agent, Nash might have played his final season in Phoenix and will no doubt be trying to win a ring before he gets any older. That’s one clear problem with this scenarion, Nash is 38-years old. We’d be lucky to get a season or two from him before he would call it quits, but he’s a perfect for helping LaMarcus continue to improve down low. Not to mention the fact that Nash can manage some scoring by himself. He’s coming off one of his better seasons, even though he has been little more than an afterthought in recent years, averaging 12.5 points and 10.7 rebounds in 31 minutes without much fanfare. Nash is a straight up veteran and his leadership would do wonders for the Blazers. It’s a long shot for Portland but they have been linked as a landing spot for Nash for the last couple of seasons. He would be a valuable piece for any team interested and will be very popular once July 1 hits.
Another one of those “maybes” for Portland, the team and the city would love to have the three-time All Star but it’ll be very difficult to snatch him away from other attractive suitors. Should Williams choose to bail on Brooklyn, Portland might be in the mix along with a number of other high-caliber teams including his hometown Dallas Mavericks. As with Nash, Williams gives the point position a tremendous boost, helping Aldridge continue to grow and doing some scoring himself. Deron was practically the leading scorer for the Nets averaging 21 points and 8.7 assists in 36 minutes per game. The Blazers have the money to go after Williams and the large contract that comes with him, and he will be hungry to get back into the playoffs and contend for a championship, that is if Williams is open to joining the Blazers and coming back to the Northwest Division after playing in Utah for so many years. It will be a difficult task for Portland’s front office to land one of these two marquee point guards (Nash or Williams), but nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Roy Hibbert’s recent dominant play against the Orlando Magic in this years playoffs is certainly causing his stock to rise. Only 25-years old and standing at 7’2”, Hibbert is exactly what Portland needs following the heartbreaking departure of Greg Oden. Hibbert, currently with the Indiana Pacers, was elected to his first All-Star game this season and will be the target of many teams looking for a big man. In 2011-12, Hibbert averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, blocked shots, and field-goal percentage and can easily become a triple-double average kind of guy. For instance, in Game 1 of Indiana’s first round series against the Magic, big Roy recorded nine blocked shots. Because of his positive production and Indiana’s advancment further into the postseason, you can bet the Pacers will want to keep Hibbert. Beyond his current team too, he should have tons of phone calls asking for his services. He could be the young center that the Blazers are desperate to find. He hasn’t had much attention the last couple of years; this summer should be a new experience for him.
To help with the weak shooting guard position, Boston’s pure scoring Ray Allen would be a nice pick-up. The NBA’s all-time leader in regular season 3-point field goals made, the Celtics wouldn’t be happy to part ways with such a fan favorite and major part of their 2008 Championship team. But Boston is getting old and has tried to deal Allen to places like Memphis to get themselves some younger players. Portland have to end up spending some of their Nicolas Batum money to get Ray, but having a scoring machine coming off the bench or in the starting lineup might be pretty sweet. Allen’s numbers have dipped since the 2007-08 season, and he now averages 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, while shooting .453 from beyond the arc in 34 minutes played per game. The Blazers will be a long-shot and might not even make much of an impact on Allen’s radar, but if he decided to come back to the Pacific Northwest and fill in for the next two-three seasons, he would do wonders for a Portland team desperate for scoring.
One of the names that I would absolutely love to see rock the black and red is Rajon Rondo. Rondo at the point would help the Blazers immediately, and playing as a complement to Aldridge, he could make the Blazers a serious threat. So Rondo isn’t exactly a free agent, but he has been brought up as a potential trade piece many times before. Boston’s “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are getting older, and the championship window is all but closed. Boston would need to get something of serious value in exchange for Rondo, who is next to Derrick Rose on the list of the best point guards in the league. Rondo finished the 2011-12 season averaging 10.8 points, 11.7 assists, and 4.8 rebounds while playing 36 minutes per game. Better yet, Rondo closed out the regular season with 24 consecutive games of 10 or more assists and is a pure “pass first” PG. Rondo’s 10-assist games streak is the longest such streak the NBA since John Stockton logged a streak of 29 10-assist games back in 1992. It is also a Celtics record. At only 26-years old, Rondo still has plenty of years left to play, and has playoff and championship experience the Blazers certainly need.