Offseason Outlook: Portland Trail Blazers

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.

Kyle Terada / USA Today Sports Images

Kyle Terada / USA Today Sports Images

Restricted Free Agent Decisions

The first two weeks of free agency will go a long way in determining how the Trail Blazers’ roster will look heading into next season. They have three restricted free agents who were rotation players this past season — shooting guard Allen Crabbe, power forward/center Meyers Leonard and combo forward Maurice Harkless.

The shortening of this year’s July moratorium from 11 days to six puts the Blazers’ front office in a difficult spot. While they have enough cap flexibility to pursue max free agents and blockbuster trades, the Blazers will have to either secure verbal commitments from one or more of them or cut them loose to keep their options open.

Crabbe is expected to receive contract offers exceeding $10MM annually after his breakout season. He emerged as one of the top reserves in the league, averaging 10.3 points in his third season while shooting a healthy 39.4% on 3-point attempts.

Leonard’s situation is complicated by health concerns. His season was cut short by a torn labrum in his left shoulder and he may not be ready for the start of the season. That could limit the market for Leonard, who averaged a career-high 21.9 minutes in his fourth season while mainly coming off the bench.

Harkless’s playing time and production increased after Leonard’s injury in March. That carried over to the postseason, in which he averaged 11.0 points and 5.1 rebounds. That was probably enough to earn him a significant raise from the approximate $2.9MM he made this past season.

Upgrading The Frontcourt

The Trail Blazers surprised a lot of people by making the playoffs and reaching the second round after losing their top frontcourt player, LaMarcus Aldridge, in free agency.

Portland compensated for the loss by featuring their backcourt pieces on offense. Damian Lillard averaged a career-high 25.1 points and C.J. McCollum exploded onto the NBA landscape, averaging 20.8 points in his third season. Crabbe was the team’s third-leading scorer and another backcourt reserve, Gerald Henderson, was its sixth-leading scorer.

Acquiring a consistent frontcourt scoring option to complement the team’s dynamic backcourt is a must. Starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu simply has too many offensive limitations to fill that role and the players at the power positions — particularly starting center Mason Plumlee, Leonard and Ed Davis — have not shown they can handle added offensive responsibilities.

The team hoped that Noah Vonleh could turn into that player when he was acquired from the Hornets prior to last season but he only averaged 3.6 points despite starting 56 games.

They must also improve their frontcourt defense. Plumlee’s underwhelming 1.04 blocks per game was enough to lead the club in that category. They need a much more imposing rim protector and inside physical presence in order to become a serious contender.

A stretch four would also be on the shopping list if Leonard is not re-signed.

Free Agent Targets

The Blazers acknowledge they are not exactly a prime free-agent destination, though their current status as a playoff team could help their cause.

GM Neil Olshey recently admitted that he’s not expecting to land a top-level free agent. “Whenever we get that first [high profile] guy to come, it will be unprecedented when you look at the history,” he said.

The Blazers still have to feel out the market and see if they can attract a top-tier free agent, given their frontcourt needs. Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside and Al Horford would make them a much more dangerous playoff team.

More realistically, they could explore the next tier of free agent options. Joakim Noah or Bismack Biyombo would provide the type of defensive force they’re lacking on the interior. Marvin Williams, Donatas Motiejunas or Ryan Anderson would fit the bill in the stretch four category.

Al Jefferson would give them a reliable, if aging, post scorer while Harrison Barnes — should the Warriors let him go — would likely embrace the opportunity of being a bigger part of someone’s offensive scheme.

Potential Trades

If the Blazers strike out in free agency, they’ll have to go the trade route. They could absorb salary to bring in a rotation player with multiple years left on his deal. In terms of trade pieces, they could find a market for Aminu or Vonleh, given that Aminu’s contract now looks a lot cheaper given the impending salary-cap explosion, while Vonleh is still on his rookie deal.

Along with the frontcourt needs, they’ll have to fortify their backcourt if Crabbe or unrestricted free agent Henderson departs, or if they desire a more traditional second-string point guard behind Lillard.

Draft Outlook

The Blazers do not have a pick, unless they trade into the draft. They dealt their first-rounder to the Nuggets in 2015 when they acquired Arron Afflalo and gave up their second-rounder to the Cavaliers a couple of years earlier.

Coaching Outlook

The Blazers have already taken care of one major off-season decision by agreeing to an extension with head coach Terry Stotts. The front office exercised its option on the final year of Stotts’ current deal and the three-year extension will kick in during the 2017/18 campaign.

Final Take

While the Blazers were one of the surprise teams in the league, they can’t rest on their laurels. They were barely above .500 and had good fortune in the first round of the playoffs, when injuries decimated the Clippers. They must improve their frontcourt to take the next step and they’ll also have to find another solid scorer off the bench if they lose Crabbe in free agency.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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