Offseason In Review: Portland Trail Blazers

November 16 2013 at 4:19pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking 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.

Signings

Trades

  • Acquired the No. 31 pick in the 2013 from the Cavaliers in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick.
  • Acquired cash from the Thunder in exchange for the No. 40 pick in 2013.
  • Acquired Thomas Robinson from the Rockets in exchange for the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou, the rights to Marko Todorovic, the Timberwolves’ 2015 second-round pick, and a 2017 second-round pick.
  • Acquired Robin Lopez and Terrel Harris from the Pelicans in exchange for the rights to Jeff Withey (to Pelicans), the Knicks’ 2016 second-round pick (31-37 protected, to Kings), and the rights to swap 2018 second-round picks (to Kings). Harris was subsequently waived.

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

  • Dee Bost
  • Richard Howell
  • E.J. Singler

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The summer of 2012 was about the arrival of star rookie Damian Lillard for the Blazers, while the headlines of 2013′s offseason were more about whether another star would stay. LaMarcus Aldridge gave conflicting statements to reporters about whether he asked GM Neil Olshey for a trade. The power forward entered the summer frustrated with the team after it finished its fourth straight season with a record worse than the one that preceded it. There were no shortage of potential suitors for Aldridge, who’s made the last two Western Conference All-Star teams, but Olshey wasn’t about to move him. Aldridge wants to play on a competitive team, but his remarks as camp began this fall indicated that he’s optimistic the Blazers can fit the bill after seeing the moves Olshey made in the offseason.

The Blazers again pounced on a team willing to give up a chance to strike gold with a young talent. Olshey had acquired the pick that turned into Lillard from the Nets at the 2012 trade deadline, and this summer he landed the player drafted immediately before Lillard, taking on Thomas Robinson from the Rockets in Houston’s rush to clear cap room for Dwight Howard. The price was a relative bargain for a player with such promise, with the draft rights to a pair of overseas players and two future second-round picks going to the Rockets in the swap. Robinson had a trying and tumultuous rookie campaign, having been traded from the Kings to Houston at the deadline, but it’s premature to assume he can’t produce. Robinson’s rate of 4.5 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game last season is an auspicious indicator, and if he develops, he may even be a capable replacement should Aldridge force a trade or bolt in free agency.

Robinson’s acquisition was part of Olshey’s retooling of last year’s subpar bench. The Blazers gave up 1.8 more points per 100 possessions than they scored with Lillard, Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson on the floor, per NBA.com. Portland surrendered 4.2 more points per 100 possessions overall, demonstrating that the reserves lagged far behind most other second units.

The Blazers used their lottery pick to help with backcourt depth, drafting combo guard C.J. McCollum, who’d drawn comparisons to Lillard. They brought in another player capable of playing both backcourt spots in veteran Mo Williams, who’s come in handy with McCollum out with a broken foot to begin the season. Olshey snagged Williams for about half of what I figured the Mark Bartelstein client would make when I examined his free agent stock in April. Williams had spent six of the previous seven seasons as a starter, and the 30-year-old even made an All-Star team as LeBron James‘ sidekick in Cleveland, so he’ll be the most significant weapon Portland brings off its revamped bench.

That’s in spite of having spent slightly more money to pry forward Dorell Wright from a handful of other free agent suitors. He led the NBA in both three-pointers attempted and made in 2010/11. A year later the Warriors felt they needed an upgrade at small forward, where he’d been the starter, so they traded him to the Sixers, who put him in a more fitting role as a bench piece. His 37.3% rate of success from behind the arc the past four seasons will help the Blazers, who finished 20th in the NBA in three-point accuracy in 2012/13.

Still, it wasn’t all about the bench for Portland this summer, as Olshey acquired a new starting center with a trade for Robin Lopez. The Blazers didn’t send anything other than second-rounders out in the deal, so the move amounted to an absorption of Lopez’s $5.9MM salary. Olshey used the largest chunk of the team’s roughly $15.5MM in cap flexibility to bring in a traditional 7’0″ center while allowing undersized J.J. Hickson to leave in free agency. Lopez isn’t nearly the rebounder that Hickson is, despite the three-inch height difference, but he’s better at rim protection, as Lopez blocked nearly three times as many shots per minute as Hickson did last season.

The offseason also entailed a purge of three former first-round picks whom Olshey inherited when he took the job. Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams and Luke Babbitt seemed destined to head elsewhere when Olshey declined to pick up their 2013/14 options in the fall of 2012, and while they managed to remain on Portland’s roster throughout last season, the team elected not to re-sign them. The league essentially validated Olshey’s decision not to wait any longer for them to develop, as none of the three made an NBA opening-night roster this season.

The Blazers are off to a hot start, and all appears well in Portland. Aldridge seems as upbeat as he’s been in at least four years, as Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com tweets, and while the 28-year-old remains non-committal about his long-term future, there aren’t any alarm bells ringing. Aldridge is under contract for this year and next, and short of the unlikely prospect that he’ll consider an extension, it’s not yet time for the team and the Arn Tellem client to negotiate. Olshey has a window of this season and next to show that the team is headed in the right direction, and it looks like he’s well on his way to doing so. The real test will be in how the Blazers can craft not just a playoff team, but a squad capable of competing for a championship. Aldridge probably won’t be satisfied with losing in the first or second rounds of the playoffs, and neither should Olshey.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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