This free agency period, almost every team in the Western Conference has, in some shape or form, bolstered their roster. Whether it be the aggressive push to the top for the Rockets, or the Timberwolves joining the elite of the NBA. One thing for certain is the motivation behind these moves is apparent. Juggernauts like the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs simply aren’t going anywhere. The onus lies with the remaining teams to attract star talent in hope to compete at the highest level.
However, the Portland Trail Blazers have remained deathly quiet amidst the flurry of moves. Rival teams have boosted their rosters while the Blazers have done the minimum. Whether this was by choice, by virtue, or forced upon them, it’s time to break down the reasoning for their inactivity.
Portland Trail Blazers Calm Amidst Free Agency Storm
Marquee Move Already Made
Fans are already forgetting the genius move GM Neil Olshey made right at the trade deadline in February. Trading Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets for a better center in Jusuf Nurkic salvaged the Blazers’ season and even helped beat the Nuggets to the eighth and final playoff spot. In the regular season, Nurkic elevated the Blazers to a 0.700 record. In comparison to their 0.435 win ratio without him, Nurkic has turned out to be the difference between Portland making or missing the playoffs.
Yes. Significantly better. #Nurkic
(In the 20 games Nurkic played – during playoff push time – Blazers had 2nd best record in the NBA.)
The difference in the quality of their roster after the trade was so outlandishly visible, that it is not beyond a reasonable doubt to claim the Blazers are a dark horse candidate for home court advantage next season. If they are able to continue the 0.700 type form of play that defeated Oklahoma City twice, Houston and San Antonio, the rest of the West needs to keep an eye on them. This includes teams that have made the most moves this off-season.
As if obtaining Nurkic for the likes of Plumlee wasn’t good enough, Olshey also managed to grab a first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft from the Nuggets for the Blazers’ second round pick. This, packaged with another pick, was traded for the eventual rights to Zach Collins; one of the most promising big men out of the 2017 class.
In short, Neil Olshey traded away Mason Plumlee and a second rounder for Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and a spot in the playoffs this season. A marquee move.
Untradeable Contracts and an Overflowing Salary Cap
Unfortunately, much of the Blazers’ inactivity has also come down to certain aspects beyond the control of their front office. While Olshey may have pulled off a deal that worked wonders in February, it was during the 2016 off-season when he made some suspect moves. The Blazers signed three of what are still some of the worst contracts in the league, in Allen Crabbe (4 years / $74,832,500), Evan Turner (4 years / $70,000,000), and Meyers Leonard (4 years / $41,000,000).
The signing of these players to such heavy contracts has rooted them in Portland for the time being. Other teams either don’t have the cap space to trade for them or simply don’t want to acquire such expensive players. The Blazers are now stuck with the task of improving the players they already have, over trading for better ones.
Moreover, the Blazers were stuck with the second highest payroll in the league last season, and with no contracts running out, they are still well into the luxury tax. This has left them with extremely limited mobility when it comes to signing any kind of star player. Yet another reason for their inactivity lies in the fact that Portland has never been a hotbed destination for free agents.
Trusting the Roster
Although the 2016-2017 season didn’t go quite as planned, the post-All Star break Blazers played a high caliber brand of basketball compared to some of their inconsistencies earlier in the year. They seemed to finally find a rhythm – certainly helped by the added presence of Nurkic – but also due to role players finally finding their footing and niche. Their youthfulness, athleticism and deadly shooting behind the arc now has deadly potential, especially if the team’s less star-studded players continue to carry their load.
A certain level of chemistry has finally built up within the Blazers roster, and in some situations, it may do more harm than good to try and bring in another player with a different playing style. If the Blazers are able to win close to 70% of their games like they did with Nurkic, last season, it may not even be worth attempting to alter the roster.
While their western conference rivals have been very active, the Portland Trail Blazers have remained calm amidst the free agency storm. Led by the explosive backcourt of Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum, the Blazers are set and primed for a positive 2017-2018 NBA season.