There’s no denying that the Portland Trail Blazers had a stellar year. 53-29. The Western Conference’s third seed. Reaching the Western Conference Finals.
Now that their season has come to an end, there are a handful of key decisions that Neil Olshey will need to make as he looks to expand on this season’s success. Here are the three biggest decisions to make:
Whether to offer Damian Lillard a supermax contract
Offering anyone a supermax contract, in this case 4-years and $190 million, always carries risk. Just look to Washington and the John Wall saga for exhibit A. These deals are one injury away from being an albatross hanging over the team for the duration of the contract.
Lillard’s contract will also consume a huge chunk of the salary cap — likely more than 35 percent since his eight percent raises will probably outpace annual cap increases. This limits Olshey’s flexibility when it comes to surrounding Lillard with difference making role-players.
Despite that, the Blazers likely don’t have much choice. Dame is an All-NBA player who has repeatedly expressed his commitment to the franchise. Neil Olshey will need to offset the financial obligations to the top end of the roster by finding useful players on value contracts going forward. Finding quality players in the draft to perform while on their rookie deals becomes paramount.
Whether or not to re-sign Al-Farouq Aminu
In several ways, Aminu had a career year for the Blazers. He shot a Blazers career-high 43 percent from the floor and a career-high 86 percent from the free throw line. He cut his turnovers below one per game. But he also showed that he can’t be relied upon to be the corner shooting 3-point specialist that the Blazers desperately need, shooting 34 percent from downtown. He also posted a career worst 109 DRtg during the regular season and absolutely disappeared during the playoffs, becoming a non-factor on both sides of the ball.
Aminu is a free agent who was on a value contract, making just under $7 million last season. It remains to be seen what kind of offers he’ll receive on the open market, but he likely cost himself money with his poor showing in the playoffs. Aminu makes an excellent 7th or 8th man on a contending team, but the Blazers’ game plan calls for a true 3-and-D player at one of the forward slots. Olshey could elect to bring Aminu back and hope for improvement, or in a reserve role. Much will depend on how confident he is that Zach Collins will make the 3rd year leap.
What to do with the 5.7 million tax payer MLE
Well, option #1 would probably be to try retain Rodney Hood. Hood excelled for the Blazers in the playoffs, averaging 13 points per game against the Nuggets and Warriors. When Portland struggled to buckets, Hood was able to take advantage of size mismatches all over the court. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Hood has likely earned himself his first big payday as a free agent this summer. Players toward the end of their careers often offer their teams a discount, players who are set to earn their first (in NBA terms) substantial contract are much more inclined to secure the bag, regardless of where it takes them.
So where should the Blazers put their limited money? A veteran 3-and-D wing would be option-A. It remains to be seen who will be available at that price range, but a Trevor Ariza type would be ideal. Portland also needs to consider center Jusuf Nurkic’s recovery time. Nurkic will miss substantial time next season as he recovers from his broken leg. Enes Kanter has likely earned a bigger payday elsewhere, so that leaves Meyers Leonard to handle the center position until Nurk returns. Leonard broke out in the WCF, but he’ll need to show it more consistently for Stotts to trust him. Skal Labissiere, acquired from the Kings, has a year left on his contract, but he has yet to prove he can get it done at the NBA level.
Neil Olshey is going to have to walk a tightrope this summer in order to upgrade his roster. Key contributors like Hood, Kanter, and Seth Curry are likely on their way out, Nurkic is out for an undetermined period of time, and the regrettable contracts from the summer of 2016 still linger on the books for one more season. Olshey deserves credit for his moves last season and the team advancing as far as they did, but he’s going to have his work cut out for him as he weighs his decisions this summer.