2020 Offseason Outlook - Portland Trail Blazers


Overview


At the conclusion of the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers had a record of 35-39 which placed them at 8th in the Western Conference and 15th in the league. The Trail Blazers’ season was a mixed bag filled with injuries and success stories. It was completed in exciting fashion with the Blazers making an impressive push at the 8th seed in the bubble and taking game one from the Lakers in a memorable series. Damian Lillard may have had his best season yet, averaging 30 points per game on 46% shooting and dishing out 8 assists per game. He just about singlehandedly lifted the Trail Blazers to the playoffs earning the title of Bubble MVP. Another feel good story to come out of Portland this season was Carmelo Anthony’s redemption. Over the course of this season, Anthony rose from out of the league to become a serviceable starter on a playoff team. He is set to return again next season in his 18th season and continue to play an important role for this team. Gary Trent Jr also had a breakout season in just his second year, significantly improving his shooting and providing some solid scoring relief for Lillard. Unfortunately, the Blazers lacked depth at the big positions missing Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic for almost the entire season with injury. This offseason, Portland will look to add some big man depth to cover for their injury-prone starters and look to give Lillard a chance at a championship as he enters the later years of his prime. It’s make or break for the Trail Blazers in the next couple of seasons and the decisions they make this offseason will help decide if Lillard will ever get his hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy.


Salary Cap


Currently, the Portland Trail Blazers have eight players with guaranteed contracts for the 2020-2021 NBA season. Trevor Ariza has a partial guaranteed contract which I expect to become swiftly guaranteed as he is a valuable piece of the rotation. Rodney Hood has a $6 million player option which I expect him to opt into. Rood is an important rotation piece for the Blazers and after missing most of last season due to injury, I expect him to opt for the security and prove his value for the following offseason. Mario Hezonja also has a $1.9 million player option which I expect him to opt into. With limited teams having available cap space and a lack of desire for a player like Hezonja, I also expect him to opt for job security and continue to be a serviceable option off the bench replacing Collins and Carmelo. Wenyen Gabriel is a restricted free agent along with two-way players, Moses Brown, and Jaylen Hoard. The Blazers have several important unrestricted free agents in Hassan Whiteside, Carmelo Anthony, and Caleb Swanigan. The Blazers project to have the $9.2 million mid-level exception and the $3.6 million bi-annual exception available to use along with several trade exceptions valued up to around $10 million.


Depth Chart –


Free Agency


The Portland Trail Blazers will enter the 2020 free agency period operating as an over the cap team with $105 million committed to just 10 players. Their main concern will be retaining some of their depth off the bench in order to prepare for any injuries which commonly happen on this roster, especially at the big man positions. After a year of redemption, Carmelo Anthony has proven himself as a key part of the Blazers’ rotation and should be brought back with the bi-annual exception. The Blazers will have bird-rights on big man, Hassan Whiteside and will be able to retain him depending on his willingness to play off the bench combined with the level of interest from other teams. Ultimately, I believe Portland will be able to provide the best offer for Whiteside and will be able to retain him, potentially on a one-year deal, as a big piece for them off the bench. The Blazers will want to retain Caleb Swanigan but are unable to offer him more than the $3.6 million cap hold as his rookie scale option was declined. It is unlikely that he will attract a higher offer but the Blazers do not need to retain him if they are able to keep Anthony and Whiteside and instead they should focus on increasing their guard depth with the mid-level exception. Alec Burks is an interesting player that the Blazers could go after. After an impressive season with the Warriors and 76ers, Burks has proven he is a capable guard off the bench that can get buckets and not get killed on the defensive end of the floor. I don’t expect him to be retained by the sixers and Portland could be his best option as they are one of the few playoff teams with the full mid-level exception available. Rajon Rondo is another guard that would work well on the Blazers, especially in the playoffs, with his basketball IQ and playmaking ability. It is almost certain that he will enter free agency and if the Blazers manage their salary correctly, they will be able to bring him in alongside Burks.


2020 Draft


The Portland Trail Blazers will have the 16th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Blazers will look to use this pick to add some backup depth at the big man position to support their injury-prone starters. With so many prospects of similar talent, it is hard to predict who will be available in the middle of the first round but there is enough big man talent in this draft to support the decision to keep their pick. With the 16th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers should look to select Precious Achiuwa, a 6’9” forward out of Memphis. Achiuwa is a strong, athletic forward with the ability to become defensive anchor in the NBA. His length and size allow him to defend much larger players and would help him fit in as an effective small ball center. His shooting could use some work along with his ball skills but with the right coaching and pairing next to a veteran like Carmelo, he can become a serviceable big man off the bench for the Blazers.


Summary


The Portland Trail Blazers are reaching the beginning of the end for star player, Damian Lillard, as he enters the later years of his prime. The Blazers have a short timeframe to win a championship with little avenues to improve. With injury-prone big men, they will be looking to increase their depth at these positions so they can stay relevant without some of their starters. If they can make the right decisions in free agency and build a quality bench, they will be looking to compete in the 2020-2021 season as they continue their hunt for a championship.


Projected Depth Chart 2020/21 Season –

Players IN: Alec Burks, Rajon Rondo, Precious Achiuwa

Players OUT: N/A