After almost two weeks of wheeling and dealing, the NBA free agency has started to wind down, with most teams now focused on filling out the rest of their rosters as training camp approaches. But when the smoke from all the trades, signings, and rumored deals cleared, the Portland Trail Blazers stood tall as one of the clear winners of free agency.
Not only were the Blazers able to add new faces to surround All Star Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum with more talent, they were also able to bring back key pieces from last year’s team and did it without spending too much. The Western Conference playoff picture will look different from last season, but the Blazers should move up and compete for one of the top spots in what should be another interesting playoff race.
Even before free agency began, general manager Neil Olshey and the Blazers front office already made a move, trading Trevor Ariza, a 2020 first round pick, and a 2021 protected first round pick to the Houston Rockets for Robert Covington. The 29-year old is coming off a playoff run with the Rockets, where he averaged 11.6 points, eight rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.2 blocks in 22 games while shooting 39.2% from the field and 31.5% from beyond the arc.
Covington is a wing that can shoot and defend and will be a good fit on almost every team, but he seems especially tailor made to play alongside Lillard, McCollum, and center Jusuf Nurkic in what should be coach Terry Stotts’ starting lineup next season. Not only will the former Tennessee State product be able to help on defense, but he should also benefit from the open looks he is expected to get as he plays alongside Lillard and McCollum.
Aside from Covington, the Blazers also traded for big man Enes Kanter, who they acquired from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Mario Hezonja as part of a three team deal that also involves the Memphis Grizzlies. Kanter previously played for the Blazers before joining the Celtics, and was a part of their run to the 2019 Western Conference Finals. In 23 regular season games, he averaged 13.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while shooting 57.7% from the field and 25% from downtown.
Kanter gives Portland another big man to pair with Nurkic and Zach Collins, who is set to return to injury, and assured that the Blazers will part ways with center Hassan Whiteside, who joined the Sacramento Kings on a one-year deal. Aside from adding players via trade, Portland also made moves to acquire players via free agent signings in Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles.
Jones Jr., who the Blazers inked to a two-year, $19 million deal, is more than just a dunker. In 59 games with the Miami Heat, the 23-year old averaged 8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and one steal while shooting 52.7% from the field and 28% from three-point range. His place in the Heat’s rotation was reduced during their run to the NBA Finals, but he should have a bigger role with the Blazers, who will need his versatility on defense and athleticism.
Giles, meanwhile, was signed to a one year deal for the veterans minimum, which makes him one of the biggest steals of free agency considering his potential. The former Duke big man averaged 6.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists, while shooting 55.4% from the field in 46 games for the Sacramento Kings last season, and joins Nurkic, Collins, and Kanter in a crowded Blazers frontcourt. Aside from adding new players, team will also bring back Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony for next season.
The Blazers signed Hood to a two year, $21 million deal, bringing back the 28-year old after an Achilles injury limited him to just 21 games last season. Before his season-ending injury, Hood averaged 11 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting 50.6% from the field and 49.3% from beyond the arc. It’s unclear if Hood can return to his old form after his injury, but Portland’s faith in signing him to a new deal should be an encouraging sign and should boost their bench.
Finally, after taking a chance on Anthony last season, the team will bring back the 10-time All Star and six-time All NBA selection. In his first year in Portland, the 36-year old averaged 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting 43% from the field and 38.5% from downtown in 58 games. He was an important part of the team’s playoff run and proved that he still had plenty left in the tank after struggling to find a team that would sign him.
The addition of Covington will likely mean that Anthony will come off the bench, but his return gives the three-time Olympic gold medalist another chance to compete for that elusive first championship. The addition of new faces in Covington and Jones Jr. gives the Blazers more versatility on defense, while Kanter and Giles should shore up their front court. The return of Hood and Anthony, meanwhile, further strengthens a talented supporting case around Lillard and McCollum, giving the Blazers a chance to compete for a top four seed in the West and making them a clear winner this offseason.
Offseason Grade: A