HANG TIME WEST – That whole deep-pockets, big-spender rep… and now this.
OK, so maybe Paul Allen having money is more than image. Mr. 53rd Richest Man in the World. Mr. I Co-Founded a Little Operation Called Microsoft, Mr. Owner of a 414-Foot Yacht. The guy who looks after two on-board submarines knows it goes beyond reputation. Maybe also whoever runs the smaller family liner, the 303-foot dinghy. But just look at what Allen’s Trail Blazers have done in the offseason with the ultimate in fiscal responsibility.
Without trading a player from the rotation, without dealing a future first-round pick, without reaching too far into the boss’ Grand Canyon pockets, there was another reminder Wednesday how the front office of general manager Neil Olshey has built a bench on tough decisions and opportunism. Olshey has, more to the point, moved Portland from 33-49 last season into the heart of the playoff conversation.
The Blazers probably would have been part of the postseason chase pack anyway, waiting to see which Western Conference clubs fall off the pace, but this settles it. The lack of depth was an obvious and predictable problem in 2012-13 … and now here comes the reinforcements. There is still uncertainty (Thomas Robinson), there is still inexperience (C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Robinson, along with returnee Meyers Leonard) and there are still questions about the defense. Except that there is also no question the roster has been improved with a series of additions at mostly low costs.
Mo Williams: The Wednesday move. The starting point guard for the Jazz last season (when healthy) signed to come off the bench, and maybe as the No. 3 point guard behind Damian Lillard and McCollum, for a reported two years and $5.6 million.
Crabbe: The Pacific 12 Conference Player of the Year was one of the top shooters in the draft. The Cavaliers took him at No. 31. The Blazers got him from Cleveland for a pair of future second-round picks. Crabbe will stick on the roster and has a chance to become a complementary threat with coach Terry Stotts wanting to emphasize the three.
Robin Lopez: He probably starts at center ahead of the still-developing Leonard, a 2012 lottery pick, but it’s depth either way for a team that needed another big. The Blazers got this one for second-round pick Jeff Withey and cash because New Orleans needed to clear cap space to get free-agent Tyreke Evans from the Kings, plus a second-rounder to Sacramento and the option for the Kings to swap second-rounders another year. A rookie (though Withey has a future) and money for a center who can make the Blazers better on defense, a necessary step on the playoff path.
McCollum: The No. 10 pick in June has a chance to be good right away, either playing behind Lillard or with the reigning Rookie of the Year.
Robinson: He would be worth taking a flyer on anyway, the No. 5 pick a year ago who needs time to develop, as everyone knew going into his rookie season, and joins a team that can be patient with LaMarcus Aldridge atop the depth chart. The Kings already dumped Robinson in a mid-season trade to Houston, and then the Rockets needed to clear salary to chase Dwight Howard. The Trail Blazers got Robinson for a pair of future second-round choices and the rights to two former second-rounders now in Europe, Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Todorovic. That made it especially worth taking a flyer.
Earl Watson: One year at the minimum for leadership and emergency point-guard duty. As a veteran with playoff experience (and Williams’ understudy last season in Utah), Watson can still have an impact even if he doesn’t play many minutes.
Dorell Wright: Two years and $6 million for the veteran to back up Nicolas Batum at small forward and maybe play some shooting guard. The Trail Blazers need Wright to hit threes. If that happens, they will play him anywhere he wants.
Final tally: One probable starter (Lopez), several others who should be in the rotation for one of the better teams in the West, plus a couple others who may be, too, without investing a contract longer than two years or trading a first-round pick or existing player. The Trail Blazers still need a lot of things to go right to make the playoff hopes a reality – Lopez has to protect the rim, Crabbe or Wright have to stretch the defense, either Leonard or Robinson have to show progress – but this is progress.