The Free Agency Profile for the Portland Trail Blazers
*Photo via USA Today
Portland Trail Blazers
2014-15 Record: 51-31 (1st Northwest Division, 4th Western Conference)
Season Summary: Portland managed to have their second straight season of 50+ wins in 2014-15.Injuries to Portland’s division rival, Oklahoma City Thunder, allowed for an easy path to the Northwest Division Title.
Unfortunately for Portland they had to deal with many injuries themselves. In 2013-14, LaMarcus Aldridge missed 13 games, but the rest of the starting lineup was able to suit up for all 82 games. This season Aldridge missed 11 games (and often played less than 100% due to a thumb injury), Nic Batum missed 11 games, Robin Lopez missed 23 games, and Wes Matthews missed 22 games plus the entire playoffs. Portland looked like a strong contender in early March. Batum, Aldridge, and Lopez were all starting to return to form after injuries, and the trade deadline acquisition of Arron Afflalo helped fortify the Blazers’ bench. Just as everything was looking good for a long playoff run, Wes Matthews tore his left Achilles and was lost for the season. This injury was a brutal blow for Portland and spoiled any real chances the team had at making noise in the playoffs.
The Trail Blazers wound up losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. This was a disappointing ending to the season for a team that appeared on the rise in the west. Now Portland has an uncertain future with Aldridge, Afflalo, Matthews, and Lopez hitting free agency this season and Batum and Damian Lillard becoming free agents the following year.
Cap Space: about $35 million under the current salary cap projection of $67.1 million.
Impending Free Agents: LaMarcus Aldridge (Unrestricted Free Agent), Wesley Matthews (UFA), Robin Lopez (UFA), Dorell Wright (UFA), Joel Freeland (UFA), Steve Blake ($2.1 Million Player Option), Arron Afflalo ($7.75 Million PO), Chris Kaman ($5 Million Team Option)
Will They Stay or Go: All of Portland’s focus should be on superstar, LaMarcus Aldridge until his fate is sealed in free agency. Aldridge has played all nine seasons of his NBA career in Portland and has become the face of the franchise. Aldridge is first in rebounds and second in points all-time for the Trail Blazers. Aldridge will only be 30 at the start of next season and Portland must do everything in their power to retain him. Aldridge has sent mixed signals regarding his desire to return to Portland. It remains unclear what Aldridge will do, but Portland should not proceed with any deals until his decision is made. Once Aldridge signs somewhere Portland can turn to its many other free agents.
The most notable of these players are Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez. Both have been staples in Portland’s starting lineup the past two seasons. Lopez has proven to be a great fit next to Aldridge and should be retained regardless of what happens to Aldridge. If Lopez bolts from Portland the team does hold a team option on Chris Kaman, who can fill in some of Lopez’s minutes at the center position. Former lottery pick Meyers Leonard, who picked up his play at the end of the year, can also fill in minutes at the center position.
Wes Matthews is a much trickier situation than Lopez for Portland. Before his injury the 28-year-old shooting guard was looking at a potential eight-figure contract. After his devastating Achilles injury, Matthews’ value to Portland and other suitors is unclear. Matthews’s injury will likely decrease the value of his contract because team will be wary of Matthews reinjuring him self or being unable to return to full strength. The track record for players returning from Achilles tears is not a good one, but Matthews is known as a warrior and should not be counted out from making a full recovery. An additional downside for the Trail Blazers is that Matthews’s injury may cause more teams to believe that he could be had at a more team friendly deal. Suitors that may have been out of Matthew's’ price range before his injury will now enter the bidding for his services. Arron Afflalo, who has a player option, is a solid candidate to replace Matthews if he leaves. In addition young guard CJ McCollum came on strong at the end of the year and can take on more minutes if needed.
Team Needs: Portland’s needs are very unclear due to the number of free agents they have. The only players with guaranteed contracts for next season are Damian Lillard, Nic Batum, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Allen Crabbe. Portland will have over $30 million in cap space and the 23rd pick in this years’ draft to fill out the rest of its roster.
Paul Millsap, Thad Young, Al Jefferson, Tristan Thompson, Greg Monroe, Draymond Green- These players are the top options to fill in for LaMarcus Aldridge if he decides to leave Portland. If Aldridge stays it is extremely unlikely that Portland targets any of these players. None of these players are as talented as Aldridge, but they all can help keep Portland competitive. Millsap and Monroe are unrestricted free agents, Young and Jefferson hold player options, and Green and Thompson are restricted free agents.
Gerald Henderson(picked up po), Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Monta Ellis, Khris Middleton, Danny Green, Gerald Green- These players can be viewed as replacements for Mathews and/or Afflalo. Ellis, Middleton, and Danny Green will likely be the three most expensive of the group. Danny and Gerald Green are unrestricted free agents, Ellis, Henderson and Smith hold player options, and Shumpert and Middleton are restricted free agents.