Sunday Soundoff: Chris Kaman, free agency, and more


Here’s a look at what happened this week in Portland Trail Blazers news and analysis:

Chris Kaman lands contract with Portland Trail Blazers (Sam Amick, USA Today – Fri. July 4)

"The Portland Trail Blazers targeted center as an area of need this offseason and landed a veteran.Chris Kaman agreed Thursday night to a two-year contract with the Blazers, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. The deal is worth $9.8 million total but only $1 million is guaranteed in the second year."

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This is your biggest news of the week: the Blazers signed a 32-year-old center that played fewer than 19 minutes per game in the 39 games he played last year. While it won’t turn heads, it’s a solid pickup. The Blazers don’t have a center that can do what Kaman can do outside of Robin Lopez, and Kaman will not demand any more minutes than he’ll see from the bench. The fact that he’s only guaranteed $1M next year is huge, considering the only guaranteed contract after next season is Nicolas Batum. If the Blazers had landed their top free agent prospect in Spencer Hawes, they almost certainly would have been committing a few more millions of dollars over a few more years.

It’s worth asking of Hawes: why didn’t he come to Portland? Didn’t he meet with us before any other team? The following article might help explain:

Sources: Blazers offered Hawes same contract — terms and year — Clippers got him for (Chris Hayes, CSNNW – Fri. July 4)

"Hawes was the Portland Trail Blazers’ primary target when free agency hit earlier this week. General Manager Neil Olshey along with head coach Terry Stotts got first dibs to pitch how the organization could help take his game to the next level. From all accounts, Hawes was extremely impressed with the presentation.But after a few days of deliberating, on Thursday, according to Yahoo! Sports, he notified the Trail Blazers that he was going in a different direction and soon after, Portland and Chris Kaman reached an agreement."

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So he chose the Clippers over us. In a lot of ways, it makes sense: bigger market, bigger city, and (according to the national media hype train) a better team with a better chance of making a postseason push. You can argue that last point, but in Hawes’ case, it’s clear: money wasn’t a factor. Our team just flat-out lost a free agent battle.

Speaking of free agents:

Agent: Door not closed on Mo Williams returning to Blazers (Chris Hayes, CSNNW – Sat. July 5)

"“The doors aren’t closed with Portland,” Williams’ agent Mark Bartelstein told “We’re still in constant communication with [general manager] Neil [Olshey] everyday. We’re just weighing all of our options at this point.”"

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Like many Blazers fans, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Mo was our only consistent bench option, unless you’re generous and decide to include pre-injury Joel Freeland. Mo made things happen.

On the other hand, a lot of what Mo made happen wasn’t good. Actually, it seemed to be a lot of “Yes, yes, yes, NO, NO, yes, NO NO,” with not a lot quiet stability between.

The other thing making this dance more complicated: Mo wants a three-year deal. He knows he’s nearing the end of his prime, and he wants financial security while he can still get it. Whether the Blazers are interested in sacrificing any amount of the aforementioned flexibility to lock up a bench player remains to be seen.

Outside of free agents and draft picks, there is one final place a team can find improvement: from within. and if you’re looking for internal growth, look no further than Summer League, which kicks off this upcoming Friday (Saturday for the Blazers):

Trail Blazers’ internal road to improvement heats up Tuesday with start of summer league practice (Mike Tokito, Oregonian – Sat. July 5)

"[Another] way the Blazers will try to reach a higher level is through the improvement of their young players, and the formal part of that process begins again Monday as their summer league team gathers to prepare for the Samsung NBA Summer League.The team will hold a meeting late Monday, then begin a three-day training camp at its Tualatin practice facility before flying to Las Vegas on Friday."

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I have pretty high hopes for guys like Will Barton, C.J. McCollum, and Thomas Robinson. They all showed flashes of promise, and in the cases of Barton and Robinson, improved noticeably as the year went on. While I’m not as excited about Leonard or Freeland, there would be nothing better than to get a pleasant surprise from what was one of the league’s worst benches.

Last but not least, and about as far as possible as you can get from bench players, a rundown of the impact of Damian Lillard’s future contract:

Looking ahead to Damian Lillard’s next contract (Sam Tongue, Blazer’s Edge – Sat. July 5)

"Neil Olshey has designed this roster around the full capability of pressing the reset button next offseason (Nicolas Batum has the only true guaranteed contract for next summer). Yet when you’re thinking about a scenario in which [LaMarcus] Aldridge agrees to a max deal either this year or next, a few years down the road could mean that LMA and Lillard are taking around 60% of team’s available cap room, if not more, by themselves."

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There is that reminder again that the Blazers are going to have a LOT of empty space to play with next year if they so choose. While there is nothing wrong with your best players eating up the lion’s share of a team’s available money, there needs to be attention paid to the addition of key role players, and to the strategy behind how you sign those players.

In short, the Blazers should use their flexibility to sign the right people, perhaps even paying a little more if need be to prevent a situation like the one with Hawes, with the knowledge that they can go into luxury tax territory to re-sign Aldridge and Lillard after. However, due to NBA contract rules, it would be much harder, if not impossible, to sign both Aldridge and Lillard, THEN sign those same role players.

While I don’t profess to have more than a passing understanding of collective bargaining of NBA contract bylaws, it pretty much boils down to this: it is easier to sign players you already have to large contracts than players coming from other teams. Look for the Blazers to be very shrewd with their moves this year as they position themselves to chart the course of the franchise for many years to come after this season is through.

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