As the NBA offseason slows, an offseason where the Oklahoma City Thunder excelled, it is time for NBA circles to assess and appraise summer 17’.
While a rebuilt Thunder preps for stiff Western Conference play beginning this October, the following series will explore how effectively Western GM’s navigated the draft, trades, and free-agency.
Over the coming weeks, WTLC will rank the Western Conference’s offseason pecking order, starting with #15 and finishing with arguably the league’s top low-season navigator.
#14 Portland Trailblazers
- 16-17 Record: 41-41 (Swept in Western Quarterfinals by #1-seed Golden State Warriors)
- Signed Free-Agents: None
- 2017 Draft Picks: F/C Zach Collins (#10 Pick, Gonzaga), F Caleb Swanigan (#26 Pick, Purdue)
- Players Lost: Allen Crabbe (Traded to Brooklyn), Festus Ezeli (Waived), Tim Quarterman (Traded to Houston), Andrew Nicholson (Waived via Stretch Provision)
- Unsigned Free Agents: None
- Retained: None
- Salary-Cap Allocations: $125.7 M ($26.6 M over practical cap)
- 16-17 Record VS. OKC: 2-1
Following gripping quarterfinal action vs. 73-win Golden State, during summer 16' Portland ownership spent big in hopes of playoff advancement.
Instead, however, last season the cap-maxed Blazers regressed slightly before nose-diving in a first-round rematch against the championship-bent Warriors.
Hence, this offseason, Portland cut salary by dealing Allen Crabbe and waiving injury-prone Festus Ezeli.
Though, still in the luxury tax, even with budding star Jusuf Nurkic’s return, the above losses —coupled with no signings and a solid-but-unspectacular draft— place these Blazers a bit further behind improved conference foes.
Key Loss: Allen Crabbe
As part of a perimeter-focused Blazers offense, Crabbe stretched opponents with his 44% (#2 NBA) three-point accuracy and 10.7 PPG in reserve minutes.
While a one-dimensional minus defender, nonetheless Crabbe opened space for star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Further, the former second-round pick’s range helped pivot Yusuf Nurkic flourish post-trade and pre-injury.
Yet, facing cap burden, owner Paul Allen’s choice to jettison Crabbe’s remaining three-year, $56.3 M salary is viewed as a positive, although it should stint Portland’s bench production this season.
Now, the onus to fill Crabbe’s offensive void falls on sub-par floor-spacer Evan Turner.
Key Addition: F/C Zach Collins and future cap room
With scant newcomers, rookie Zach Collins becomes Portland’s key addition by default.
Drafted 10th overall, and acquired from Sacramento, Collins flashed upside in limited collegiate action. While this season the 7’0 rookie is slated to gain minutes behind traditional-big Nurkic, Portland fans should welcome Collins’ addition.
Skilled, rangy, and a modern NBA frontcourt fit, during his second, and final, season with Gonzaga, Collins averaged 23.2 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 4.1 BPG, and 65/47/74 shooting per 40 MPG.
In addition to honed two-way instincts, Collins has shown an ability to switch the pick defensively and offer rim protection —both necessities for a viable big in today’s NBA.
Before suffering an injured quad, Collins blocked two shots per game during three fair-to-middling summer league contests. Even so, along with the $60 M saved by team ownership this summer, Collins represents a sound asset for Portland.
X-Factor: Jusuf Nurkic
Stagnant, the 23-31 Trail Blazers dealt veteran center Mason Plumlee (and a first-round draft pick) for Nurkic as a mid-February shakeup.
Afterwards, Portland went 14-6 with “Big Nurk” in tow.
In a new environment, 22-year-old Nurkic shined while averaging 15.2 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG and 50% FGM.
Prior to the 7’0 280-lb bruiser’s season-ending right leg fracture, the Blazers reeled eight wins in nine contests en route to clinching another cardiac playoff berth.
Nurkic played a massive role in this success, scoring a career-best 33 points vs. his former team just two games before the ill-timed injury.
As both counting and advanced numbers show, Nurkic proved a true game-changer with Portland.
During his 20-game Blazer debut, the third-year-pro boosted a lagging defense, while improving the team +11.1 PP100P while on the floor.
Although, facing stronger competition this season, Nurkic’ continued success, and renewed health, is vital for Portland’s chances of earning a fifth-consecutive post-season appearance.
Portland Trail Blazers 17-18’ Projected Opening Night Starting Linueup:
- PG: Damian Lillard
- SG: C.J. McCollum
- SF: Mo Harkless
- PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
- C: Jusuf Nurkic
Unlike other Western franchises, the Blazers didn’t add immediate impact via the draft or free-agency. Though, not a calamitous summer, Portland’s stock may be lowered a bit next season minus Crabbe.
While the field evolved and Portland stayed put, that is enough to place the Blazers at #14 on this list.