Throughout the month of November, Hoops Rumors will look back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
The Trail Blazers were one of the league's busiest teams at last season's trade deadline, as they attempted to flip their useful veteran players for expiring contracts and draft picks. One move in particular paid huge dividends -- in sending Gerald Wallace to Brooklyn, the Blazers acquired not only a big expiring contract in Mehmet Okur, but landed the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft, which they used to select Damian Lillard.
The move, which was widely praised at the time, might look even better in retrospect. Not only did Portland manage to carve out a little extra cap space, but the club swapped a player it wasn't going to re-sign for one who already looks like he'll be a cornerstone for years to come.
While the team's best move of the year may have come at the trade deadline, the work that new GM Neil Olshey and his staff did on draft day shouldn't be overlooked. Lillard certainly wasn't considered a consensus top-six pick back in June, so the team's willingness to select him with confidence at No. 6 overall should be commended. The jury's still out on both Lillard and No. 11 pick Meyers Leonard, but the early returns are good.
The team also did an admirable job on the trade market, working out a sign-and-trade deal to move Raymond Felton, a player that didn't have a future in Portland, and getting involved in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Courtney Lee to Houston. Neither deal was massive, but stockpiling second-round picks is never a bad thing, especially when the price is so minimal.
With the cap space they obtained when they let contracts like Felton's, Hasheem Thabeet's, Jonny Flynn's, and others expire from their books, the Blazers first locked up Nicolas Batum, matching a pricey offer sheet put forth by the Timberwolves. The $46MM+ price is likely a little more than Portland hoped to pay, but it's not so exorbitant that the contract will become an albatross. It ensures Batum is locked up through his age 27 season, meaning the Blazers should either get many of his best years or have no problem trading the contract later on.
The rest of the Blazers' cap space was spent primarily on bringing over international players whose rights the team had previously drafted -- Joel Freeland and Victor Claver. J.J. Hickson and Ronnie Price also received one-year guarantees, and while neither player appears to be a part of the team's long-term plans, the Blazers will hold Hickson's Bird Rights next summer, and could bring him back if he has a solid year.
While it wasn't the splashiest of offseasons in Portland, the team took steps in the right direction by drafting Lillard and Leonard, and retaining Batum. Within the last few months, the Blazers have clearly focused on gathering assets, such as the second-round picks they acquired in their offseason trades, and gaining as much cap flexibility as they can, as they showed when they declined all three of their 2013/14 options on Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, and Elliot Williams.
It remains to be seen how quickly Lillard and Leonard can develop, and how good they (and Batum) can be, but if all goes well, the Trail Blazers hope to build a contending team around LaMarcus Aldridge. It will probably require some patience, since a playoff berth this year would be a major surprise. But given what Portland did this offseason and the position the team has put itself in going forward, it's not unreasonable to think the Blazers could acquire another solid veteran or two within the next year and make a real run at the postseason in 2013/14.