Jason’s Master Plan to Fix the Blazers:
If I am GM’ing the Blazers, I am operating under the assumption that we are on a two-year timeline – namely LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract. At this point in time, there is no way I am trading him, because talent in the league is too scarce, but, with his contract coming to a finish, I am sweating. So far he has said all the right platitudes, but that’s almost the worrisome part: I think that unless something drastic happens (in terms of the Blazers experiencing success), his lack of a vocal preference either way indicates he will leave in two years in free agency.
Next, Meyers Leonard is starting. He needs the minutes to either develop into what we hope, or to definitively show that he cannot be a starting center going forward. Non-negotiable.
There are eight contracts guaranteed for next season: Aldridge, Batum, Matthews, Lillard, Leonard, Freeland, Claver and Barton. I am absolutely letting Babbit (just nope + no defense), Smith (already agreed on) and Hickson (likely out of price range + not a good fit) go. The Freeland and Claver contracts kill me, but I have to gnash my teeth, and take what my predecessor gave me. Here is how I would get the Blazers up to the league roster minimum of 13 players (12 active + one inactive).
I want a shooter. The two I am looking at are Kyle Korver and J.J. Reddick. I suspect that Korver will come cheaper, because of the assumption (and likely truth) that Reddick is more versatile. That being said, I’d prefer Korver, because the guy is truly a sharpshooter (45.7% on threes next year). I find that his defensive woes are overblown, as evidenced during his stint in Chicago when he was part of the league’s best defense. He can flat out shoot, and you truly can never have enough shooters. Because defenders must pay so much attention to him, spacing on the court is vastly opened up, especially for players looking to drive. Lastly: can you say spark plug off the bench? 3 years / $15 million / 3rd year is a team option (9 on roster)
The Blazers need another big. There is no way I am taking on a project big in the draft, but there is a glaring need for at least another competent one on the roster. I am looking squarely at Elton Brand. Unfortunately, the expectations of being a #1 pick have derailed his career somewhat, but the man is the definition of solid. He could play at the same time as either Aldridge or Leonard, and if the Leonard as a starter experiment does not work out, he can hold down the fort serviceably for a year. I would also look into Samuel Dalembert, although he would likely be too pricey. 2 years / $7 million / 2nd year is a team option (10 on roster)
I want Maynor back. He is already familiar with the system and he flashed potential last season. His qualifying offer of $3 million is a bit too high for my liking, but if that’s what it takes, so be it. If Maynor does not work out (I believe some other team could try and poach him from us), I am looking at Gary Neal as another alternative, though San Antonio will likely extend a qualifying offer. Lastly, it’s a longshot, but as a good GM I would extend the feelers towards Jose Calderon’s camp to try and gauge his expected price. $3 million (11 on roster)
The complete truth is that the Blazers have only two tradable assets: Aldridge and the 10th pick of the draft. I already said I’m not moving Aldridge, and in a weak draft, I think it would be difficult to get good value back by flipping this pick. This is when you just have to trust your scouts. Also, an advantage of using the pick on a player as compared to trading it for a veteran is a much smaller salary.
I hemmed and hawed over this decision more than I can put into words, but: the Blazers NEED, and I mean NEED, some sort of slashing presence, and there just happens to be an offensive juggernaut who was highly rated but is now projected to fall: Shabazz Muhammad. All of my trains of thought led back to him. first-year salary for the 10th pick is approximately $2 million (12 on roster)
Don’t get me wrong: I have grave reservations about such a pick, but in an ultra-competitive league like the NBA, sometimes you just have to have the guts to make a call like this. The ball hogging / whining complaints against him are the most worrisome (see: moping after his teammate hit a buzzer beater), but I am banking on Lillard’s maturing leadership and quiet fire to rein that problem in.
Officially he was a three in college, but given his smaller size, I would like to see him push Matthews for the two spot. If he can’t supplant Matthews (and I don’t expect him to this season), then he could be another spark plug off the bench.
Lastly, with the three remaining second round picks, I would use the shotgun approach and hope one pick pans out. I would target slasher, a big, and a ball-handler. Whoever does the best in offseason workouts / training camp can get the last roster spot. second round first-year salary is approximately $500,000 (13 on roster)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
Starters: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Meyers Leonard
Reserve Rotation: Eric Maynor, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Korver, Elton Brand
Bottom Feeders: Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Will Barton, Second Round Pick
$43 million already locked up for the 8 guaranteed contracts, $5 million for Korver, $3.5 million for Brand, $3 million for Maynor, $2 million for Muhammad, $500,000 for the second round = $57 million, with some wiggle room (projected cap $58.5 million) if it is needed to persuade Korver or Brand.