When asked about making offseason moves in an interview with the Portland Tribune, Blazers GM, Neil Olshey, indicated that he would consider any option that adds much needed depth to the team:
“I’m open to anything. Every move we make this offseason has to be made where we maximize our flexibility. Every penny of cap room. … the mini-mid level, our draft pick, our second-round picks. It’s not just about adding one player. We’re not deep enough right now. We’re not talented enough. We have to make moves that increase the talent base at least one through nine. That’s what we have to get to, no matter how we go about doing that.”
With our lottery pick yet to be determined (and going to Charlotte if we finish above the bottom 12) we are left to examine our best options in free agency for now. The #1 issue that needs to be addressed is depth. Olshey knows this, and will look to sign a slew of role players over a new superstar. So who’s it going to be? If we wish to maximize our salary cap, we need to look at the players that provide the most bang for their buck in free agency. The following is my shortlist of 2013 unrestricted free agents Portland should target, that have been paid in peanuts for their services this year.
#1) Nate Robinson (PG) – Chicago Bulls. Current salary: $1,146,337
Nate Robinson plays with the energy of three players; always has. He is an 8 year man, that would bring experience, talent, and most importantly, a spark. In the absence of Derrick Rose and the ailments of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson has been electric for the Chicago Bulls. So what happens to him next year? Derrick Rose will be healthy (one would hope), Hinrich is signed through 2014, and Marquis Teague will have a year under his belt to back up 3rd string. Nate the Great will probably be looking for his 6th NBA team to call home. With Portland in desperate need of experience off the bench and no guarantees that Eric Maynor will stick around, the Blazers should give Mr. Robinson a long look.
#2) Tony Allen (SG) – Memphis Grizzlies. Current Salary: $3,300,000
Tony is one of the leagues premiere defenders. He was instrumental in bringing the Celtics a championship in 2008 and was named to the NBA all-defensive first team as recently as last season. The Blazers need defense more than anything. They’ve danced the same dance all year; make a run with the starters, dig a hole with the bench, climb out as best they can when the starters re-enter. Portland needs players that can get stops, force turnovers, and prevent opposing teams from running up the score while the starters rest. Tony Allen is a perfect fit.
#3) Earl Clark (SF/PF) – Los Angeles Lakers. Current Salary: $1,240,000
Clark has received more minutes than anyone anticipated this season due to injuries between Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Metta World War, and Jordan Hill. Just when Gasol went out with a plantar fascia tear and the Lakers thought all playoff hope was lost, Earl Clark stepped in and got it done. During the course of Pau’s absence, the Lakers won 13 of their 20 games, greatly due to the contributions of Earl Clark on both ends of the floor. He is a 6’10” small forward that can play post when needed. That’s two inches taller than the Blazers’ starting SF, Nicolas Batum. That kind of size off the bench brings the sort of rotation options Terry Stotts has been missing all year. Not to mention Clark’s increasing skill level. It couldn’t hurt to have LaMarcus insurance in case of future injury either.
#4) Corey Brewer (SF) – Denver Nuggets. Current Salary: $3,243,000
The Brew Master is the definition of a role player. Need him to get a stop? He’ll terrorize the ball. Need him to score? He’ll get to the rim. Need him to play out of position? You get the idea. Corey has been great for the Denver Nuggets this season, averaging 12 points off the bench. He may need to step up even further in the absence of Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL). We’ll get to see him play as many minutes as he can handle down the stretch and get an even better idea of his capabilities. The Blazers could certainly use him in the backcourt. He brings a solid offensive game and a phenomenal (relative to Portland) defensive game every night.
#5) Zaza Pachulia (C) – Atlanta Hawks. Current Salary: $5,248,750
Now, $5m+ is not exactly peanuts, but Zaza is a great buy-low option this year. His current salary is the result of a back-loaded contract with the Hawks. He has been under-utilized in Atlanta due to injury and the spotlight heroics of Al Horford. Zaza is by no means the best center on the market, but the price is right and the experience is high. He is a 10 year man that knows how to work the glass. We will need all the rebounding we can get, especially after the anticipated departure of J.J. Hickson. What’s more, Zaza is 6’11”. The lack of a traditional center has been a burden on the Blazers all season, despite J.J.’s chameleon efforts. If we elect to pick up a big man in free agency, Zaza fits the bill.
Of course, Portland will have to weigh their options between now and then, but window shopping isn’t a bad idea. Remember, these are just some of the unrestricted free agents. It’s very possible that more players become available as options are, and are not, exercised. As far as getting their money’s worth while stretching the budget, Portland would be remiss to overlook these guys. When the offseason arrives, keep an ear to the ground and listen for role players heading toward the Rose City.