What Does The Future Hold For Joel Freeland?


With the Portland Trail Blazers’ offseason in full swing, it has become clear that the entire roster could shift drastically. There are the big questions – what will happen with LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez, three of Portland’s five starters who are all unrestricted free agents?

There are also the next level of questions – will Steve Blake or Arron Afflalo choose to exercise their player options, and will the team cut or keep Chris Kaman? However, this is all before mentioning one Joel Freeland, who is a restricted free agent this off-season, and the subject of today’s discussion.

The British Bulldog has always been an interesting case study to me. He rebounds very well, he can give you solid defense (see the 2014 Houston Rockets series), and on offense… he’s certainly passable, able to nail those 13-foot jumpers that can help grease an offense’s wheels. Seriously, for a big who sits deep on the bench, this shot chart from last season isn’t half bad:

Joel Freeland 2014-2015 Shot Chart

It has always been difficult to pin down exactly where Freeland stands in the rotation. Last season, the three primary bigs for the Trail Blazers were easy to identify – Aldridge, Lopez, and Kaman. After that, Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson, and Freeland were all in the mix somehow, although Robinson’s trade partially through the season changed things up.

Consider that of those first ‘big three,’ two are now free agents, and one can be cut with minimal financial consequences. All of a sudden the Trail Blazers roster might have a surplus of available minutes for big men next season. Leonard will still be around, he is the only certain piece of the frontcourt puzzle.

Where then does Freeland fit in? He is a restricted free agent, so when it’s all said and done, the Trail Blazers will ultimately have the power to keep him or let him go, although at what price is still in flux. As David explains in far more detail here, the Trail Blazers first have to extend a qualifying offer by June 30th if they want the chance to match any outside offers for Freeland.

While the answer to the question, “Should the Blazers keep Freeland?” is almost assuredly, “It depends on the price,” if given the option, I would like to see Freeland return. He will likely never be more than a solid bench player, but you can never have enough depth in the NBA. This season in particular seemed filled with injuries, and even in the Finals, we are seeing the importance of a deep roster.

Addressing that for a moment, the Cleveland Cavaliers are down two key starters, and are somehow still in the series due in part to the contributions of former bench players Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson. The Golden State Warriors are as good as they are due to their unprecedented depth, which also allowed their starters to play manageable minutes during the regular season.

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Assuming one of the Aldridge/Lopez/Kaman triumvirate does not return next year, and assuming Freeland does, he would probably be looking at a position as the fourth big on the team (when you throw Leonard into the mix). This seems ideal for Freeland, as he can do most things decently, and can generate a couple extra possessions each game on his own with offensive rebounding.

In a pinch Freeland has even shown that he can start if injuries demand it, and in the eight games he started this past season, the Trail Blazers went 6-2 (although two of these wins were against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks).

He is, however, somewhat injury prone. In three seasons with the Trail Blazers, Freeland has never appeared in over 52 games, and he has already sustained somewhat serious injuries to his knee and shoulder. This could make Portland wary, as a $3.8 million qualifying offer is a fairly big financial investment.

The Trail Blazers have a tough decision facing them. Freeland has been a gritty contributor, and keeping him could be a worthwhile act of continuity for the team as a whole. In today’s league of short contracts and frequent franchise switches, continuity can be incredibly valuable for a coach trying to implement his system. With so much other turmoil, keeping Freeland could help ease any transition.

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