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Dissecting Damian Lillard’s free agency ‘wish list’


How far can Portland go to satisfy their up-and-coming superstar, Damian Lillard? We’ll see in the next few days how far general manager Neil Olshey is willing to go to appease his point guard by pursuing any of the five free agents on Lillard’s ‘wish list.’

In a text message exchange with CSNNW’s Chris Haynes, Lillard named Mo Williams, Channing Frye, Vince Carter, Spencer Hawes, and Trevor Ariza as players he’d like to be added to the Blazers’ roster in free agency. It appears Lillard knows who he wants to play with and, at least, has some idea of the cap implications for each one of those players carry. It’s not like he was asking for Carmelo Anthony here. All of those guys “could” end up with the Blazers for the right price.

On paper, all of those players would help the Blazers next season and fill a very specific area of need, which also proves that Lillard is very much aware of the Blazers’ weaknesses and isn’t delusional about how good the team actually is. Other than Williams, all the players Lillard named would be a significant upgrade to any bench player Portland had last season. Carter and Ariza are much better than Will Barton and Dorell Wright, just as Frye and Hawes are much better than Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland.

It all comes down to making a deal work. Based on the current salaries, Portland has little to money to work with in free agency, as the Blazers only have the mid-level exception and biannual exception to offer, except for the non-Bird exception that only applies to Williams. Depending on the combination, Portland could get at least one free agent on Lillard’s list and possibly two, if everything falls into place.

So, how likely is it Portland is able to secure Williams, Frye, Carter, Hawes, or Ariza? Let’s take a look:

Mo Williams

Apr 1, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams (25) drives to the basket during the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hottest topics at Rip City Project this offseason has been what the Blazers should do with Williams. At this point, I still don’t know. Portland definitely needs to let their young players get some playing time and experience so that they are ready come playoff time– assuming the Blazers make the playoffs next season, which is far from a sure thing in the West. On the other hand, Williams was the backbone of the bench last season and he was great down the stretch and late in games. The 31-year-old Williams is on the back nine of his career, but he still contributes quality minutes. Portland needs quality minutes from their backup point guard. That much is guaranteed.

Reports have surfaced that Dallas has been in contact with Williams and could offer Williams a three-year contract, something the Blazers might have a problem doing with Aldridge’s extension along with Wesley Matthew’s contract and Robin Lopez’s contract both expiring next year. If Dallas offers Williams a longer deal or can pay him more, I don’t see Williams coming back to the Blazers. It’s just a feeling I have. I want Williams to come back because I think Portland needs him, but I think he was too good last season for the rest of the league not to try and cash in on a veteran point guard who is coming off a great season.

Vince Carter

Mar 21, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter (25) celebrates making a three point shot against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Nuggets 122-106. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Carter is the desirable free agent scorer Portland needs next season. The only problem is nearly every team in the league wants a shot at Carter. I’ll be surprised if he leaves Dallas, but I’ve also seen reports of Carter possibly going to Miami or Oklahoma City, as well. Wouldn’t that be terrible?

I’d put Portland’s chance at signing Carter very low. At this point, Portland would have to overpay to get Carter. Is that a good idea? I mean, Carter was the sixth man on the team that finished eighth in the West. No doubt Portland needs a player like him and the qualities he possesses, but does Olshey want to spend most of his free agent budget on a guy who may not even be a difference maker in making the team better? Carter’s a fun idea, but he’s too widely coveted around the league for Portland to get him without blowing their entire mid-level exception.

Channing Frye

Mar 2, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns power forward Channing Frye (8) puts up a shot against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Could a return to Portland be in the near future for Frye? In all honesty, probably not, but it’s fun to speculate. At most, Portland could offer Frye a little more than $5 million over the course of four years with the mid-level exception. That number probably isn’t high enough to sign Frye, who just opted out of a near $7 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was going to give Frye more than $7 million per, but I could also see somewhere in the $5-6 million range be the magic number for him.

If that is the case, Portland has a shot at securing Frye, who would fit perfectly in Portland’s offensive scheme. He would add a dimension to the frontline with his long-range shooting ability that Portland definitely does not have right now. Just imagining a Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Aldridge-Frye lineup is making me sad because I’ve convinced myself it’s not going to happen. Please, Channing, if you’re reading this, please come to Portland. Please. The city needs you.

Spencer Hawes 

Feb 21, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Cavaliers center Spencer Hawes (32) warms up before playing against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Cavaliers 98-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Of the players from Lillard’s wish list, Hawes has the most realistic chance of actually inking a deal with Portland. The Seattle native has expressed his desire to play in the Northwest, and Portland is basically the only option for that. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian broke the story Tuesday night that Hawes is “very interested” in joining the Blazers. Because Portland can only offer the mid-level exception of about $5 million per year over four years, Hawes might need to take a small pay cut to play in Portland. Hopefully, the possibility of playing closer to home and for a potential contender is enough for Hawes to sign with Portland.

Schematically, signing a player like Hawes makes total sense for the Blazers. With Hawes, the Blazers can reduce the workload and minutes of Aldridge and Lopez while adding that “Frye-ish” range dimension to their offense. Plus, Hawes gives the frontline more stability and protects Portland from having to play young, unproven bigs if Aldridge or Lopez were to miss a considerable amount of time next season.

On paper, Hawes doesn’t immediately make Portland that much closer to winning the title. Hawes still has quite a few shortcomings as a player, but you never know what a player can become until he’s in a winning situation. Hawes has never played with as many good players as he would with the Blazers. Maybe it would bring the best out of him, who knows at this point?

Trevor Ariza

Apr 25, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards forward Trevor Ariza (1) shoots the ball against the Chicago Bulls in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ariza to the Blazers is a pipe dream, but there is no indication or any report that it is even a possibility. Based on Ariza’s season last year, he’ll command much more than the mid-level exception the Blazers would offer him. It’s still fun to imagine the Blazers playing small ball with Batum and Ariza as forwards and Aldridge as the center. It’s not going to happen, though. Good try, Lillard!

Of the five players on Lillard’s wish list, it’s near impossible for Olshey and Portland to sign two of them (Carter and Ariza), one is a long shot (Frye), and two are looking promising (Hawes and Williams). As I touched on earlier, the Blazers only way to sign free agents is through the mid-level exception, most likely what the Blazers will offer to Hawes, and the biannual exception, what the Blazers will offer to Williams. Hopefully, next season, you’ll see both Williams and Hawes tearing it up for the Blazers’ second unit. Lillard should be extremely satisfied if he gets two of his wishes.

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