UNDER CONTRACT: F LaMarcus Aldridge, F Nicolas Batum, G Wesley Matthews, F J.J. Hickson, F Luke Babbitt, F Jared Jeffries, G Elliot Williams, G Nolan Smith, G Ronnie Price, G Sasha Pavlovic
DRAFT PICKS: F-C Joel Freeland (2006), F Victor Claver (2009), G Damian Lillard, C Meyers Leonard, G Will Barton
FREE AGENTS: G Jonny Flynn, F Craig Smith, F Shawne Williams, C Dan Gadzuric
MOVES: The Trail Blazers needed a real center – no, not rookie Meyers Leonard – to take the pressure off All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and gave a maximum four-year, $58 million offer sheet to Roy Hibbert, setting the market extremely high with a bold move. The Pacers remained mum for some time on whether they would match on Hibbert. When they made clear that they would match, Portland rescinded the offer to keep its cap flexible. After some serious wrangling and veiled accusations between the clubs, new Blazers GM Neil Olshey matched the four-year, $46.5 million offer sheet given to Nicolas Batum by Minnesota. During the process, Batum said he really didn’t want to come back to Portland, which turned down his extension request earlier this year. After matching, Olshey indicated Batum’s agent told him to say those things. Oh, well. On the same day Batum was retained, the Blazers also signed Ronnie Price, a career backup who has the most experience of any point guard on Portland’s roster. Olshey appears committed to rebuilding with youth as he has signed way-back draft picks Joel Freeland (3 years, $9 million) and Victor Claver (3 years, $4 million), who have been playing in Spain. He also pounced on the perpetual panic around the New York Knicks, packaging a signed-and-traded Raymond Felton (3 years, $10.5 million) and aging Kurt Thomas for Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, the draft rights to Eurostashes Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou, a 2016 second-round pick and $1 million. Gadzuric’s contract was not guaranteed, and he was waived. The Blazers also picked up veteran guard Sasha Pavlovic and two 2013 second-round picks from Boston in facilitating the Courtney Lee sign-and-trade. The Celtics are paying Pavlovic’s salary. Finally, Olshey hired a coach, making somewhat of a surprise decision by naming late interview candidate Terry Stotts over interim Kaleb Canales, who will remain on staff as the defensive coordinator. Stotts filled out his staff with former Raptors coach Jay Triano, Kim Hughes and David Vanterpool.
TO-DO LIST: The hiring of the offensive-minded Stotts caught several Blazers off guard, including LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews, both of whom voiced public support for Canales. The decision to keep Canales on staff was made to appease Aldridge, owner Paul Allen, or both, depending on whom you believe. Olshey had been extremely passive regarding their free agents, which wasn’t a bad thing. The Blazers allowed Jamal Crawford, Hasheem Thabeet and Joel Przybilla to walk away scot-free and appear ready to do the same with Jonny Flynn now that they have 15 players under contract (including second-round pick Will Barton). They also waived Shawne Williams. The only free agent Portland retained was J.J. Hickson on a one-year deal, giving Aldridge a capable backup. Allowing the free agents to leave removed the cap holds and gave the Blazers flexibility which they used to retain Batum. But Portland still needs a center unless it plans on throwing Leonard into the fire, which they may do given his showing in summer league. Barton may also be in line for minutes after Elliot Williams tore his Achilles tendon.
PROJECTION: The Trail Blazers weren’t terrible last season but had no means of getting dramatically better without landing Hibbert. Retaining Batum was smart, and Olshey seems committed to building with quickness and youth playing for a coach with some experience. The roster will include eight players with two years or less experience, including five rookies – and perhaps two in the starting lineup. In the loaded Western Conference, that puts Portland several years away.
(RELATED: What grade did the Blazers get?)
For offseason analysis of every team, click here.