Signing free agent center Chris Kaman was not a perfect move for the Trail Blazers, but it was probably smart given their lack of bench production and sweet beards. I have spent too much of my personal time wishing Meyers Leonard would shave his head and grow a 2008 Drew Gooden octo-beard for intimidation purposes, so, on the whole, I feel like I personally came out on top. Kaman is about two bumpy seasons removed from legitimate relevance, so who’s to say he will not experience a renaissance year in Portland? He will certainly get the nod ahead of the aforementioned Leonard, and that is great news for the Trail Blazers… for now.
I can’t shake the feeling that Leonard has been prematurely accepted as a sunk cost. The Trail Blazers have more or less set aside their 22 year old offensive center in favor of a 32 year old offensive center on a one year lease. That seems like a questionable settlement between “win now” and “lose later,” but if we called it “lose fewer games in the short term to achieve pseudo-relevance at the cost of developmental focus” the statement loses podium appeal. Kaman will not make the Trail Blazers a championship team (bold prediction, I know), so why not invest even slightly in Leonard as long as we are throwing defense to the wind?
Leonard has reached the point in his career where his future is the wrong kind of murky. A few years from now, most of us will either be saying “Why didn’t the Trail Blazers give him a chance?” (a la Jermaine O’Neal) or, “Why did they draft him in the first place?” (a la Nolan Smith). I am of the opinion that an athletic, 7’1” big man with beautiful shooting mechanics will pan out sooner or later. Leonard may never be an all-star, but he will absolutely be useful. That is all we can ask from him at this point, but the timing never seems proper to make the request. With Kaman in town, Leonard’s developmental urgency has been further delayed.
This is especially concerning when Leonard’s contract status enters the picture. The Trail Blazers have to exercise his team option in order to keep him next year, in a year where they will already be scrimping and saving to re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez. It is difficult to imagine that the Trail Blazers will be on board with designating a cool $3 million to a player they haven’t bothered using in three years. Kaman’s presence seemingly guarantees that third year of inactivity (barring injury), potentially sealing Leonard’s fate one summer from now. Granted, a lot can/will happen between now and then, so there is no need for alarm just yet.
The Trail Blazers have four centers on contract for the 2014-2015 season (Lopez, Kaman, Leonard, Joel Freeland). I could see that changing at the February trade deadline. My fear is that Kaman has created a venn diagram with the circles “young talent” and “trade fodder” in which Leonard occupies the middle. When the time comes that this is pertinent, I’m not sure that I will be okay with it. Leonard is too much of a question mark to ignore, but he remains such because Portland has done so. Forcing him further back (or even away) is a self-defeating exercise in futility that needs to be remedied, not perpetuated.
The way I see it, Kaman is good for the Trail Blazers right now, but in a ‘dessert before dinner’ kind of way. The Trail Blazers are so caught up in instant gratification that they may be spoiling something far more important. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited to have Kaman here—especially for cheap, but I worry about the cost beyond the books. I am not ready to give up on Leonard (possibly my own flaw). If he doesn’t get his shot soon, he won’t get his shot here. Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are: “It might have been.”