Portland Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers Notes: Leonard, Crabbe, Free Agency

Power forward Meyers Leonard is hopeful that he can return to action by the start of the regular season, he told Brian Wheeler and Michael Holton from Blazers.com. The 7’1” Leonard suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-March and underwent surgery later that month. Leonard will be re-evaluated at the beginning of August and believes that he’ll be cleared for contact and one-on-one drills during the middle of training camp, Leonard added in the interview. Despite the injury, the Blazers re-signed Leonard to a four-year, $41MM deal after he entered the market as a restricted free agent.
In other developments around the Trail Blazers:
  • President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey never balked at matching the monstrous four-year, $75MM offer sheet the Nets handed to Allen Crabbe, he told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. The 24-year-old shooting guard averaged 10.3 points as the team’s sixth man last season and cashed in on a free agent bonanza. “It was never a question. We don’t draft guys here to let them walk away or we don’t take it for granted,” Olshey said. “I think you’ve seen the commitment we’ve made to the guys we’ve drafted.”
  • In the same story, Olshey indicated he accomplished his offseason goals by retaining Leonard and Crabbe while adding two outside free agents, swingman Evan Turner and center Festus Ezeli. “I think we maximized our cap room,” Olshey said. “We had some holes, maybe not positionally, but in terms of skill-set, that we identified. We were able to do, I think, a pretty admirable job in free agency.”
  • The Blazers have their deepest roster since Olshey joined the franchise in 2012, Mike Richman of The Oregonian opines. Ezeli and Leonard will join Mason PlumleeEd Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu in the frontcourt rotation while backcourt starters Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have solid backups in Crabbe and Turner, who will also see playing time at small forward, Richman points out. They could be even deeper if they retain restricted free agent forward Moe Harkless, Richman adds.

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Teams

On Monday, our Community Shootaround discussion focused on 2016’s Eastern Conference playoff teams, as we asked which of those eight clubs is most likely to slide down the standings next season. While the Heat received the most votes, the response was hardly unanimous.

In the Western Conference, however, it seems far more likely that there would be a consensus on which team is in for the biggest slide. The Thunder, after all, lost a perennial MVP candidate in Kevin Durant, and traded a three-team All-Defensive player in Serge Ibaka. The team still has Russell Westbrook on its roster, and was widely lauded for its return in the Ibaka deal, but it’s hard to imagine Oklahoma City as a top-three team and a Conference Finals participant again in the West.

So, as we examine the West’s playoff teams, let’s not focus on which team will slide the most. Instead, let’s discuss which teams’ moves you liked and which ones you didn’t.

The Warriors, of course, made the biggest splash of the offseason when they landed Durant, but is there room for improvement on last year’s 73-win squad, or will it take some time for the team to adjust to its new-look roster?

The Spurs and Clippers have brought back most of their key pieces, but it’s the end of an era in San Antonio, where Tim Duncan has announced his retirement. Adding Pau Gasol to the mix will help, and Duncan had already been surpassed by Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as the club’s go-to players, but this isn’t the same Spurs team that won a championship just two years ago. As for the Clippers, if their core players stay healthy into the playoffs, there’s still optimism that the team can finally get over the hump, but Chris Paul‘s not getting any younger.

It’s been an eventful summer for the other three Southwest playoffs teams, with the Mavericks bringing in Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut while losing Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia. Parsons ended up with the Grizzlies, who also retained Mike Conley with the largest contract in NBA history. The Rockets, meanwhile, saw Dwight Howard walk in free agency, but landed Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

Finally, the Trail Blazers, one of 2015/16’s pleasant surprises, have managed to bring back key restricted free agents like Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard, and also made a couple more head-turning moves in free agency, adding Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli on multiyear deals.

So what do you think? Did any of the Western Conference playoff teams besides Golden State and Oklahoma City drastically improve or take a step back this offseason? Or will the storyline in the West next year simply come down to the Thunder losing their best player to the Warriors?

Take to the comments section below to share your opinions on the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Blazers, Mavs, Grizzlies, and Rockets. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

No Progress In Negotiations For Blazers, Harkless

  • With Waiters’ QO off the board, Maurice Harkless is now one of just three restricted free agents still available, along with Tyler Zeller and Donatas Motiejunas. However, Harkless and the Trail Blazers are no closer to reaching a deal, agent Happy Walters tells Jason Quick of CSNNW.com. According to Walters, via Quick, a few other teams have shown interest in Harkless, but the RFA forward wants to return to Portland. The agent acknowledged there’s a chance Harkless will ultimately sign his QO and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Harkless Could Accept Qualifying Offer

  • Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless is in “no rush” to sign a contract, but the restricted free agent should make a decision in the next couple of days, his agent told Jason Quick of CSNNW.com (Twitter link). Harkless might accept the Blazers’ qualifying offer of just over $4MM, Quick adds. Several teams were reportedly interested in Harkless early in the free agent process, including the Wizards, Pistons, Lakers, Mavericks and Jazz, but some of those clubs have already made other commitments.

Pacific Notes: Sanders, Kings, Joerger, Smith

Despite losing two centers this summer, the Warriors haven’t reached out to Larry Sanders, writes Monte Poole of CSNBayArea. The former Bucks big man was an elite rim protector before he walked away from the game in December of 2014, citing anxiety and depression. Sanders is considering a comeback and sparked speculation on Saturday when he sent out two messages on Twitter: an image of a cavalier and a scene from a 1979 movie titled “The Warriors.” Golden State needs to find replacements for Andrew Bogut, who was traded to Dallas to create cap room for Kevin Durant, and Festus Ezeli, who signed with the Trail Blazers as a free agent.

There’s more news from the Pacific Division:

  • The Kings are getting plenty of calls from teams interested in Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore, tweets James Ham of CSNCalifornia. So far, they haven’t heard an offer they like.
  • New Kings coach Dave Joerger doesn’t plan to coach any more summer league games, tweets Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. Joerger said he started out in that role to set the tone for the rest of the staff.
  • The Kings and Clippers are among the teams that worked out J.R. Smith‘s brother this weekend in Las Vegas, tweets Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com. Chris Smith‘s only NBA experience came in two games with the Knicks in 2013.
  • Ryan McDonough’s first plan for a quick turnaround in Phoenix didn’t work, so now he’s rebuilding through the draft, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. With two picks in the top eight, the Suns grabbed highly regarded power forward prospects Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Their only free agent pickup so far this summer is veteran shooting guard Jared Dudley for $30MM over three years, a modest sum in this year’s market. “That’s certainly the most sustainable way to do it,” McDonough said about his draft strategy. “If you can draft those guys and have them under control for four years on the rookie scale and then have a bunch of advantages in terms of contract extensions and full Bird rights, that really helps.”

Blazers, Meyers Leonard Agree To Deal

The Blazers and Meyers Leonard have agreed on a four-year deal worth $41MM, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports (on Twitter). Portland had extended Leonard a qualifying offer on June 29th.

Leonard is a solid rotation piece for the Blazers because of his ability to rebound and hit outside shots consistently. Leonard, who is recovering from an injured shoulder, declined an extension from the Blazers in October, but the backup big man had said he was interested in staying in Portland. Meyers’ season was cut short in March when he dislocated his shoulder and he may not be ready at the start of the season.

Leonard appeared in 61 games last season, including 10 as a starter. He averaged 8.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 21.9 minutes per outing. His shooting line was .448/.377/.761.

Nets Await Decision On Crabbe; Knee Concerns Hurt Ezeli's Value

The Blazers will have until Sunday at 8:59 p.m. Portland time — or 11:59 p.m. Brooklyn time — to decide whether to match the Nets’ offer sheet for Allen Crabbe, tweets Jason Quick of CSNNW. Crabbe, a restricted free agent, signed a four-year, $75MM offer from the Nets on Thursday. League rules give the Blazers three days to decide whether to match, and GM Neil Olshey isn’t offering any clues about his decision. (Twitter link). Crabbe is coming off his best NBA season, averaging 10.3 points in 81 games.

  • Festus Ezeli‘s deal with the Blazers contained less money than expected because of concerns about his knees, tweets Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. The former Warriors center signed a two-year, $16MM contract with Portland on Friday, with a team option for the second season. Ezeli had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February, and a source told Spears that teams are worried about his durability.

Allen Crabbe Offer Sheet Details

  • Allen Crabbe‘s offer sheet with the Nets is worth $18.5MM in its first, second, and fourth years, with a third-year salary of $19.3MM, according to Pincus (Twitter links). The deal, which the Trail Blazers could match, also has a fourth-year player option, a 15% trade kicker, and “significant payment advances.”

Blazers Sign Festus Ezeli

FRIDAY, 10:04am: The Blazers have made their deal with Ezeli official, announcing the signing in a press release.

THURSDAY, 8:36pm: The Trail Blazers and unrestricted free agent Festus Ezeli have come to an agreement on a contract, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports (on Twitter). It will be a two-year deal worth $16MM, Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated tweets. The arrangement includes a team option for the second year, Spears adds (via Twitter). Ezeli became an unrestricted free agent after the Warriors renounced his rights earlier this week. He met with team officials on Wednesday in Portland, where things apparently went well.

It remains to be seen what effect inking Ezeli will have on the team’s dealings with restricted free agent Allen Crabbe. The swingman reportedly agreed to a four-year, $70MM offer sheet from the Nets, but a later report noted that no offer had been made. With Brooklyn signing Heat restricted free agent Tyler Johnson to a $50MM offer sheet, it’s unclear if Crabbe remains in the Nets’ plans, or is now viewed as a fallback option if Miami matches the offer to Johnson.

Ezeli saw only 16.7 minutes per game last season, but he made the most of his time, sporting a 17.7 player efficiency rating and averaging 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Trail Blazers Waive Cliff Alexander

The Trail Blazers have waived power forward Cliff Alexander, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical (via Twitter). The move was required for Portland to free up the cap room necessary to sign Festus Ezeli without losing the rights to key restricted free agents.

Alexander, 20, signed with the Blazers as an undrafted rookie out of Kansas last July, but only saw action in eight games for the club during the 2015/16 season, playing a total of 36 minutes. Alexander’s contract had originally called for his 2016/17 salary to become guaranteed on June 30, but Portland pushed that guarantee date back to July 25, meaning the team won’t be on the hook for his cap hit for the coming season.

Per Jason Quick of CSNNW.com (via Twitter), assuming Alexander isn’t claimed off waivers by another team, the Blazers say he will be welcome to continue playing with their Summer League team this month.

Meanwhile, the Blazers also still face decisions on their three restricted free agents. Allen Crabbe has agreed to a huge four-year offer sheet with the Nets that Portland has three days to match, while Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless still remain unsigned.

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