4 Veteran free agents who could help develop Blazers’ young core

LeBron James (left), Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LeBron James (left), Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Things are going to look drastically different in Portland next season with Damian Lillard not expected to be in a Trail Blazers jersey for the first time in 11 years. With rookies Scoot Henderson, Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert in the fold, head coach Chauncey Billups is going to be running a lot of youth through his rotation.

Whether it’s supremely talented youth or not, it will be a challenge for Billups to take a roster with Henderson (19 years old) and Shaedon Sharpe (20) as its future building blocks and mold it into something resembling a contender.

Jerami Grant (29) re-signed with the Blazers on a five-year, $160 million deal. Assuming Lillard is traded, Grant would be the oldest player on Portland’s roster.

Jusuf Nurkic is somehow only 28, but after that, the ages drop off a cliff in terms of potential rotation players or starters on the current roster:

  • Anfernee Simons (24)
  • Nassir Little (23)
  • Matisse Thybulle (26)
  • Murray (R-22)
  • Jabari Walker (20)

The Trail Blazers will need depth, but if they’re going to truly lean into a rebuild and play Henderson and Sharpe major minutes, it would be helpful if at least some of that depth came in the form of veteran leadership.

Here are four vets who are still free agents (as of July 26) who Portland could grab on cheap deals to help bring the young core along this season, even if it’s from the end of the bench.

Blazers veteran free agent target No. 1: Justise Winslow

Bringing Winslow back on a low-salary deal may be the ideal option for the Blazers. He was with the team last year, and even though he spent most of it injured, that gives him familiarity with Billups’ system and everyone on the roster, with the exception of Portland’s three rookies.

He was around Sharpe, Simons, Walker, Little and Thybulle. He entered the league at 19 – just like Henderson – but has accumulated eight years of experience since then.

If he’s healthy, he’ll be useful on the court as well as an intelligent, versatile player on both ends of the floor.

Blazers veteran free agent target No. 2: Danny Green

At age 35 and coming off a significant injury that kept him out of all but 11 games last year, Green’s on-court career is on its last legs. But he’s a three-time NBA champion who’s won titles alongside Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. He also won an NCAA National Championship at North Carolina.

In his prime, Green was the ideal three-and-D wing. He’s a career 39 percent shooter from deep, and at an athletic 6-foot-6, was a versatile defender who could guard 1 through 3.

If there’s an available vet tailor-made to teach Sharpe, Murray and Little a thing or two about how to play on the wing in the NBA, it’s Green. And with how light the Trail Blazers are at that position, there’s no reason the former Tar Heel can’t come off the bench for 10 to 15 minutes every few nights.

Blazers veteran free agent target No. 3: Bismack Biyombo

Biyombo is a good fit because Portland desperately needs any big human being on the roster. He’s coming off a mini career resurgence after playing in 61 games for the Phoenix Suns last year (he played 36 the year prior.)

He averaged 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 14.3 minutes a night in 2022-23. Per 36 minutes (which he’d never actually play in Portland), those numbers jump to 10.7 and 3.6, respectively. His rebounding and defense would be a nice addition for a Blazers team that desperately needs help in both areas, even if it’s only for 20 minutes a night.

He’s also widely considered to be one of the best human beings in the NBA who’s used a huge chunk of his salary to open and fund schools, build basketball courts and soccer fields, and help grow the game in his native Congo.

Blazers veteran free agent target No. 4: Boban Marjanovic

Again, Portland needs big bodies, and they don’t come much bigger than Boban. The 7-foot-4, 290-pound center has never been a real on-court factor during his eight years in the NBA, but he’s a fantastic locker room presence who would be a good influence on the young guys.

The 34-year-old has only averaged double-digit minutes in three seasons, but again, with Portland’s lack of size and depth, he may be able to make it four if he lands with the Trail Blazers for the ’23-24 campaign.

He’s played for six different franchises, not to mention an overseas career that began when he was 14, so he’s been around the block a few times and understands how to deal with different personalities.

And hey, who wouldn’t want to come to work every day and see Boban hanging around?

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