Portland General Manager, Neil Olshey, has made it absolutely clear that the Blazers will be aggressively active this off-season with an emphasis on defense. His simplified plan is to offer draft picks for proven players, in hopes to jump start Portland’s continued rebuilding effort.
“If there is a player under contract that we can absorb into our room, on a team that values a draft pick more than the established player, or they are moving in a different direction and it moves us forward faster, it’s clearly what we are going to do.”
With the pending departure of center, J.J. Hickson, and all other starting positions firmly slated, the Blazers will look to trade for a traditional, defensive center; something they have been lacking since day 1. This has some intriguing implications for current backup center, Meyers Leonard, who spent his rookie season being bred for a starting job. If the Blazers find a good deal, he may be coming off the bench yet again, or even joining another squad as part of the aforementioned trade. His defense has not developed as quickly as the Blazers had hoped, and Olshey is eager to get the team rolling.
So who are the most likely targets? The Blazers need a team that is willing to part with their big man in favor of rookie potential.
My personal favorite buy-low option is Marcin Gortat of the Phoenix Suns. Although perhaps not an elite defender, he is probably the best realistic option for Portland. The Suns were left picking up the pieces when Steve Nash joined the Los Angeles All-Stars and Gortat hasn’t quite been the same since. He struggled to produce at times and was unable to step into the leading role many hoped he would fill. The beauty of it is that the Blazers aren’t seeking a player with Dwight Howard-esque expectations. Gortat could thrive in the Rose City if given the chance, and Phoenix will want as many high draft picks as they can get in order to find their feet again. The 6’11” center has 1 year remaining on his contract, worth $7.7 million.
Best season: 15.4 points / 10.0 rebounds per game
Anderson Varejao’s name has been tossed about, but this option seems less feasible to me. Cleveland has no real need to clear cap space unless they renew all their expiring contracts and Varejao has been their most reliable player when healthy. Had it not been for the blood clot in his lung that kept him out most of the season, Wild Thing would have made his first All-Star appearance last February. The only reasons for Cleveland to trade him would be injury risk or a change in direction. In which case, why would we bother targeting a player that poses more detriment than contribution? More likely, Cleveland is content to keep their veteran center over draft picks, as most of their team is already rather young. Varejao has 2 years remaining on his contract, worth $19 million.
Best season: 14.1 points / 14.4 rebounds per game
My most endorsed pursuit may be our least popular option. I speak, of course, of the necessary evil, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins exhibits significant attitude problems and has been cast by many he’s played with as a bad teammate. This is exactly why we shouldn’t want him and exactly why we stand a chance to get him. The Kings organization and DeMarcus have had a hard time seeing eye to eye, and it’s not improbable that a split is in their eventual future; why not dangle some incentive? Cousins has played just 3 years of professional ball and has a ceiling you’d need an extension latter to reach. Portland has a tendency to shy away from players with a mean streak since enduring a young Zach Randolph and Rasheed Wallace before him, but in the sports world, sometimes an omelet needs a few bad eggs. DeMarcus has the aggression we’re missing and could be a bargain with 1 year remaining on his $4.9 million contract.
Best season: 18.1 points / 11.0 rebounds per game
Draft night is going to be huge for the Blazers this year. The team is already so young that their picks are more or less expendable. Portland is anticipated to have the #10 pick as well as three 2nd round picks which, if bundled carefully, could be shipped off for a quality center. With Olshey’s ambition and background, I believe the Portland roster will sparkle in no time.