What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. Today, we’re looking at a team that lost most of its starting lineup in free agency, the Portland Trail Blazers.
There’s no team that took as big of a hit to their championship dreams in free agency as the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers lost their best player in LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs, as well as Wesley Matthews to the Mavericks. There was also Robin Lopez going to the Knicks and the trade of Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets. That’s four out of five starters gone.
The tailspin for Portland began when Matthews went down with an Achilles injury, effectively taking them out of contention. Now that he, Aldridge, Lopez and Batum are gone and replaced by a lot of youngsters, it’s safe to say that Portland should be looking further into the future than 2016 if they want to find success.
Portland’s biggest asset right now is Damian Lillard, and the star point guard was just locked up to a lucrative long-term extension, giving the front office plenty of time to build around him as best they can. The Blazers will likely be in the lottery, so they should be keeping the lottery-protected pick they owe Denver in next year’s draft. How useful that pick will be remains to be seen, so Portland should be exploring all possible avenues to improve its roster.
Portland currently has a boatload of cap space (up to nearly $29 million), but the free-agent market has mostly dried up at this point. The Blazers extended a max offer sheet to restricted free agent Enes Kanter, but the Oklahoma City Thunder matched. The most notable remaining player in free agency is restricted free agent Tristan Thompson, who’s looking to re-sign with Cleveland for just under the max. The Blazers could try to force Cleveland’s hand and offer Thompson a max offer sheet in the hopes that Cleveland blinks.
It’s still likely the Cavaliers would match any offer sheet on Thompson, but it wouldn’t hurt if the Blazers tried to make a move there, even with all the other young big men on the roster. Taking a chance on a 24-year-old big man who played key minutes on a Finals team makes some sense, especially since they have plenty of cap space moving forward and not a lot else going on. Usually the downside of giving restricted free agents offer sheets is that it ties up your flexibility in free agency, which can sometimes result in the loss of other targets. However, since the other free agents remaining are fairly low impact players, not having as much cap flexibility for a few days isn’t a big disadvantage at the moment.
For now, Portland has to pick up the pieces and start a rebuilding project around Lillard. If they add players in free agency, those guys should be young, as it may take a long time for them to get back to the upper part of the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Blazers must develop the young players already on the roster as the team builds for the future.