Portland Trail Blazers Make Key Addition with Chris Kaman

It might seem strange to think of Chris Kaman as the player who could push a team over the hump and get them into the realm of true title contenders, at least at this stage of his NBA career. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what he’s setting up to do for the Portland Trail Blazers

Confused about how a 32-year-old center coming off a lackluster season filled with injuries and personality clashes can have that type of impact?

You wont be for long. 

According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the veteran big man signed on board with the Rip City squad for a two-year deal worth—at most—just under $10 million: 

Chris Kaman agreed Thursday night to a two-year contract with the Blazers, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. The deal is worth $9.8 million total but only $1 million is guaranteed in the second year. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because NBA contracts cannot be signed until July 10.

Is Kaman worth nearly $5 million per year?

That’s iffy, but it’s by no means a significant overpay. In a vacuum, the 32-year-old might not be able to command more than the veteran minimum, but the NBA doesn’t operate in such a context-free environment.

As you’ll see, this move has far-reaching ramifications, all of which are positive for Portland. Plus, the ability to save so much money in the second year is a nice insurance policy in case his decline wasn‘t solely because of misuse and a lacking of playing time under Mike D’Antoni.  During the 2013-14 season, the hunting aficionado spent far too much time on the bench, possibly daydreaming of the next time he could get out the crossbow.

Playing only 18.9 minutes during the average contest, Kaman posted 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 50.9 percent from the field. He was hampered by injuries throughout the campaign, and his lumbering playing style didn’t exactly mesh with D’Antoni‘s up-tempo whims. 

The two’s feud wasn‘t exactly a secret: 

In February, Kaman left no doubt about how he felt while speaking with InsideSocial.com’s Mark Medina

Everybody tries to be positive. I want to be professional about it. It wasn’t what I anticipated coming here. Obviously I thought I had an opportunity to play more minutes with Pau. But history shows with Coach D’Antoni’s style, it’s a small guy’s game, I suffer as a result of that. It is what it is. I can’t argue what he’s saying. I have to trust the position of head coach. It’s obviously frustrating at times, especially when you’re losing a lot like that and we had a stretch where it’s tough to sit there and watch knowing I could help or provide an effort to get a change of momentum.

Is it any wonder he’s now signing with a team he thinks is a much better fit for his talents? 

It shouldn’t be, especially after that was the first thing he brought up once his two-year agreement with a new squad became public knowledge: 

And Kaman wasn‘t the only one excited about his upcoming arrival in Portland, one that will become official after contracts can be legitimately signed on July 10. It’s always good to get Damian Lillard on board as well: 

Even if Kaman can produce identical numbers to the ones he posted last year, he’ll be worth the deal for the Blazers. They may have a number of frontcourt options on the pine, but none are established like Kaman is, and depth is sorely needed on the Rip City bench. 

That’s what makes this such a scary signing for the rest of the Western Conference. 

Portland was often held back by its lack of a contributing bench, forcing the starters into major minutes (luckily, they stayed largely healthy) and wearing them out during the regular season. If Terry Stotts is able to play his second unit without fear of giving up a lead in just the blink of an eye, it’ll keep everyone much fresher for the inevitable postseason run. 

After all, the starting five—Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez—is staying together, and it’s only going to get stronger as Lillard continues improving. Given that this is still a young squad, there’s no reason to expect this team to trend anywhere but in a positive direction.

The bench is where the upgrades are needed, and landing a quality veteran like Kaman, one who’s presumably chasing a shot at a championship, indicates that more small-scale signings are coming.

Portland with depth is scary. Terrifying, even. 

“While Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was coming to terms with just how few of his reserves seemed at all playable in this series, Popovich was drawing a 10-point, seven-rebound performance from Aron Baynesa bottom-of-the-barrel center who logged all of six minutes in the first round,” wrote Sports Illustrated Rob Mahoney after the San Antonio Spurs handed Portland a 116-92 loss to open the second-round playoff series. 

If that scenario changes, everything follows suit. After all, the numbers last year just weren’t pretty. 

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Blazers bench finished No. 27 in defensive efficiency, better than only the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons. Things weren’t much better on offense, as the efficiency ranked dead last, admittedly by a small margin.

Yay for silver linings?

It’s the defense where Kaman can help most. Even during his down season with L.A., the Lakers allowed 5.2 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, per Basketball-Reference.com. Over the course of his career, his team’s defense has improved by two points over the same span of possessions when he plays, and it’s been better with him on the court in seven of his past 10 seasons.

Additionally, things were made worse for Rip City by the lack of playing time the non-starters received. It’s not as though the inefficiency was created by too many minutes on the court, falling in line with the typical inverse correlation between volume and effectiveness. The bench players averaged a league-low 13.7 minutes per contest. 

Kaman alone may top that mark in an effort to keep Aldridge and Lopez as healthy as possible throughout the year. And as the legitimacy of the second unit grows, more future free agents should flock to one of the true up-and-coming teams in the vaunted West. 

The bench, in order of money owed in 2014-15, is now comprised of Kaman, Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland, C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe and Will Barton. 

Given the youth of that group, it’s safe to bet on internal improvement, but the Blazers aren’t going to be done making small-scale signings like Kaman. Remember, Damian Lillard recently texted some names he’d like to see Portland chase to CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes, “Yeah…Mo Williams,” and, “Channing Frye, Vince Carter, Spencer Hawes, Trevor Ariza.”

Some of those are reaches, but it’s not entirely inconceivable to see some of those veterans—or others of a similar caliber—taking a chance on being a part of something special. Well, it’s more inconceivable now that Kaman has absorbed what was likely the team’s mid-level exception, but minimum contracts still exist, and the allure of a deep playoff run can often trump monetary impact late in a player’s career.

Additionally, the recent signings by other franchises are only driving up prices, which makes this deal more palatable. Dwight Jaynes explains for CSNNW.com: 

Faced with the very real prospect of being priced out of a chance to sign Spencer Hawes or Channing Frye for the mid-level exception, the Trail Blazers got an agreement with Chris Kaman Thursday night at around five million bucks for the upcoming season.

Yes, that’s the very definition of what’s called overpaying for a player. Kaman’s contract last season for the Lakers was for just $3.18 million and he did nothing during that year to prove he deserved a raise this season, playing in just 39 games.

That said, Trail Blazer GM Neil Olshey probably had few choices considering what Portland had available to spend in the free-agent frenzy going on this summer. Olshey had to have depth in the frontcourt and he at least grabbed a player capable of being a solid contributor when healthy. Kaman is a smart big man who can score and protect the rim. He’s had several solid NBA seasons and is very underrated defensively.

But there’s more to the Kaman signing than his personal contributions and the assumption that more veterans are going to be following in his large footsteps. By bringing his talents to Stotts‘ pine, he’s making young talents like Robinson and Leonard increasingly expendable.

Trade bait, anyone? 

Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb predicted as much even before the former Laker was brought aboard: 

There are plenty of teams out there who’d love to get their hands on some of Portland’s young assets. It’s unlikely the Trail Blazers will break up their starting lineup, but you could easily see a rebuilding team seeking a package built around guys like McCollum and Leonard. Those are precisely the kind of prospects for whom a bad team will happily wait.

Trading partners might include teams like the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks. Even emergent, young teams like the Charlotte Hornets might be in the market for some new blood.

Could Portland gets its hands on a more proven veteran like Thaddeus Young or O.J. Mayo? There’s no reason to rule the possibility out, and there’s no doubt an acquisition of that magnitude would give Portland a starting-caliber sixth man.

Well, now things are getting really interesting. 

If Portland is able to land not just a bench contributor, but a Sixth Man of the Year candidate without breaking the bank and parting ways with one of its impressive starters, it becomes an even more serious threat to exact revenge upon Gregg Popovich and the Spurs during the 2015 postseason. 

In a best-case scenario, this is exactly what happens. General manager Neil Olshey swaps some of the young players with upside for a more established talent who can come off the bench as a super sub, and Portland gets a lot more dangerous. 

But with Kaman on the board, providing post moves, mid-range shooting and underrated defense from the center position, the worst-case scenario is so much better. 

Even if the Blazers aren’t able to do anything more than fill up their active roster with nondescript players, their bench is better for adding Kaman, who can serve as a solid insurance policy for a certain Stanford product.

And that had to be the No. 1 goal of the offseason. Not finding insurance for Lopez, but adding depth in general.

Mission accomplished, but not necessarily completed. 

 

Like the Kaman signing? Love it? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook 

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6 Reasons You Can and Can’t Believe in Portland Trail Blazers’ Playoff Success

The Portland Trail Blazers could advance to the second round of the playoffs or possibly even the Western Conference finals.

The Trail Blazers started out the season by winning 21 of their first-25 games, which prompted many to believe they could win perhaps a round or two in the postseason given how dominant they looked early.

Portland has since lost a bit of a steam. Head coach Terry Stotts has watched his team lose nine of 13 contests in March, and the losses have turned the Trail Blazers into a question mark more than anything.

Granted, the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge has been part of the reason for the stumbles. Aldridge has missed seven straight games due to back spasms.

With that said, the Trail Blazers have shown their best and worst stretches of basketball, and it helps paint a picture of what to expect in the playoffs.

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Orlando Magic 3/25/14: Video Highlights and Recap

After last night’s close loss at the hands of the Miami Heat, the Portland Trail Blazers got back on the court to take on the struggling Orlando Magic.

The Blazers entered Tuesday looking to snap out of a skid that has seen them lose two games in a row and seven of their last 10. Portland hasn’t looked like the same team after the All-Star break, and LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injury issues haven’t helped either.

Orlando came into the meeting losers of its last nine games, giving Portland a golden opportunity to turn the tide of its season.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Portland Trail Blazers’ Good Luck Charm Comes in 15-Year-Old Boy

Portland Trail Blazers super fan Matt Vachter has been the Blazers’ secret weapon this season.

Vachter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, goes to many of the Blazers’ home games and has gotten to meet the players, cheerleaders and coaches before and after the games.

The players show him lots of love and even made a custom jersey for him, but the incredible addition to Vachter‘s story is that when he attends games and gives daps to players, the team is 39-5. Now if only they could get him to go on their road trips.

[Portland Trail Blazers]

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The 1 Team the Portland Trail Blazers Do Not Want to See in NBA Playoffs

The Portland Trail Blazers aren’t quite the offensive juggernaut/title contender that they looked to be in a roaring 22-4 start to the season, but make no mistake, they’re lurking as a team that could make some noise in the playoffs.

Portland is banged up, but it’s also been fairly stingy on defense lately and still has the offensive rebounding and outside shooting to give a team headaches in the postseason. Certain teams, anyways.

The Western Conference side of the playoffs is basically one big game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” It’s all about drawing the right matchup. And the one team, above all others, that the Trail Blazers do not want to see in the playoffs is…the Houston Rockets. The team they’re currently slated to meet in the first round. Yikes.

 

Defense

There may be better teams than the Rockets out West, but none of them are as uniquely equipped to give Portland problems on the defensive end.

Houston is scoring more efficiently against Portland than pretty much any team in the league, and its two stars have rolled through the Blazers defense. Just take a look at James Harden and Dwight Howard‘s numbers against Portland.

  PTS TRB AST TS%
Harden (vs. Portland) 30.3 7.3 5.3 64.1
Harden (season averages) 24.8 4.6 5.7 61.6
Howard (vs. Portland) 25.5 13.5 1.8 65.7
Howard (season averages) 18.6 12.4 1.8 59.8

That’s some scary stuff. As Grantland‘s Zach Lowe recently detailed, the Blazers defense is designed to take away three-pointers at the expense of giving up more looks at the rim. Houston’s offense is designed to get a ton of shots from deep and at the rim.

The results are what you’d expect—the Rockets are shooting just 32 percent from deep against the Blazers, but they’re scoring over 56 points per game in the paint. Houston’s also feasting on the offensive glass, grabbing around a third of its misses against Portland.

A lot of Rockets fans are (quite fairly) unhappy that the majority of Howard’s touches come from the low block instead of in what should be a lethal Harden-Howard pick-and-roll combo. But against the Blazers, those looks have been dynamite. Houston is shooting 58 percent (!!) on post-ups against Portland, per Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required).

Robin Lopez has been great for the Blazers this season, but he doesn’t have the strength or speed to hang with Howard. Howard can literally move him around in the paint, and even when he’s really humming, Portland has been hesitant to send help.

Houston’s wings cause similar problems. Again, Portland opts to protect against corner threes instead of packing the paint, and Harden in particular has taken advantage of that. The Rockets are taking and making a huge chunk of shots at the rim against Portland, and even worse, they’re drawing a ton of fouls in the process.

The Blazers are typically great at avoiding fouls, but they’ve sent the Rockets to the free-throw line far too often. Even worse, they’re not set up to take advantage of Houston’s turnover problems. Portland’s conservative scheme rarely forces turnovers, limiting one of the easiest ways to attack Houston on the other end.

 

Offense

Unfortunately for the Blazers, things don’t look all that much better against Houston on the offensive end.

Despite what Howard’s presence might have you think, the best way to attack the Rockets is at the rim. Opponents are shooting nearly 61 percent in the restricted area against the Rockets, and 48 percent even when Howard is around the basket, an unusually high number against a defender of Howard’s caliber.

But the fault doesn’t lie with Howard so much as it does with Houston’s perimeter players.

Patrick Beverley is the only steady defender among the starters, and even he is prone to gambling too much. Chandler Parsons is inconsistent at best, and Harden is…Harden-ish (though he’s not usually that horrendous). As a result, Howard is left on an island to deal with a lot of unhindered shots at the rim.

Portland doesn’t really have the personnel to take advantage of that. The Blazers have scored the NBA‘s third-lowest amount of points in the paint, and a good chunk of the shots they do get at the rim come from offensive rebounds or LaMarcus Aldridge post-ups. And as Lowe wrote, those have been pretty ineffective over the last few months.

The “jump-shooting team” label is a tired one, but it fits the Blazers better than most teams. Portland has taken more threes and more mid-range jumpers than they have shots at the rim, and Houston defends both of those areas well. The Rockets are aggressive against pick-and-rolls in order to force opposing bigs into tough mid-range jumpers like this:

Unfortunately for the Blazers, that shot is Aldridge’s bread and butter. Aldridge has taken more mid-range jumpers than the entire Rockets squad and has hit 42 percent of them. That’s a passable number, but not nearly good enough to justify it being such a big part of the offense, even if it does open up outside shots for Portland’s wings.

Aldridge has put up some big numbers against the Rockets, but that’s more a result of him averaging nearly 24 shots in those games than anything else—he’s posting a true shooting percentage of just 50 percent against them.

To be fair, Portland can take advantage of a few mismatches against Houston.

For example, Damian Lillard‘s pick-and-roll three game could give the Rockets (who sometimes struggle defending above-the-break threes) problems. And as much as they’ve failed to secure defensive rebounds, the Blazers have done well on the offensive glass against the Rockets. Still though…not a ton to work with here.

 

Conclusion

Like quite literally every playoff team in the West, the Blazers are going to be a handful in April. They’re more than capable of winning a series—or even multiple series—if everything breaks right. Even a series against the Rockets.

With that being said, though, the Rockets are the worst-case scenario for the Blazers. Portland fans shouldn’t exactly be cheering for their team to lose games, but let’s just say it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they happened to get passed in the standings.

 

All statistics accurate as of 3/24/2014 and courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Miami Heat: Live Score and Analysis

The Portland Trail Blazers (45-25) are on the road to take on the struggling Miami Heat (47-21) at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday.

The Heat won a close game, 108-107, in the only other meeting between these two on Dec. 28.

 

Tipoff7:30 p.m. ET

Coverage: NBATV

Injuries (via CBS): LaMarcus Aldridge, POR (questionable, back); Joel Freeland, POR (out, knee) 

 

Keys to the Game

With Aldridge struggling with a back injury, the Blazers need others to step up and fill the offensive void. Most of that responsibility will fall on Damian Lillard.

On the other end, Greg Oden will start at center for the Heat. It will be his first chance to take on the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft. They’re 4-7 in their last 11 and could use more production from the center position.

 

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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Greg Oden Expected to Start vs. Portland Trail Blazers on March 24

The next time the Portland Trail Blazers play, Greg Oden will be starting—just not for them.

According to the Miami Heat‘s game notes, Oden will start when the reigning NBA champions host the Blazers on Monday, March 24, in what will be a game highlighted by what-could-have-beens.

Portland selected Oden with the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. As The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman reminds us, his arrival was supposed to be the start of something special for the Blazers, but things quickly turned tragic:

The Blazers selected Oden with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, causing giddy fans to storm the court during a draft party at what was then called the Rose Garden. His selection was supposed to cement the Blazers as an NBA powerhouse, creating the tantalizing possibility of a Big Three featuring Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Oden, and stimulating visions of multiple NBA championships.

But you know how that ended. Oden would play just 82 career games over five seasons with the Blazers as injuries — including five on his knees — stained his tenure in Portland and sabotaged his career. He averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds with the Blazers.

But while he’s hardly the dominant player he once was — or at least was projected to be — Oden has resurrected his career in Miami.

Indeed, Oden has managed to rebound from recurring knee injuries in Miami, where he’s seldom expected to contribute, let alone buttress a dynasty.

Expectations have steadily increased in Miami, though. With each passing game, Oden becomes more of a lineup fixture. He’s started in three of the Heat’s last five games, providing the occasional block or thunderous dunk, offering further glimpses into the player he once could have been.

But the pain and anguish of his injury-riddled time in Portland continues to linger.

Though Oden has appeared in 20 of Miami’s games, he has yet to clear 15 minutes in a single contest, in what is a stark reminder that what “once could have been” will never actually be.

For the rest of his career, Oden could find himself on a minutes cap, forever a game-time decision on the tail end of back-to-backs.

Blazers fans can relate to this all too well—and more.

Portland held out hope that he could return and produce for nearly five years before giving up in 2012. Regardless of how marginal his role in Miami is, it has to be bittersweet watching him play for a contender after failing to elevate the Blazers’ status for four-plus years.

Still, it’s refreshing to see Oden simply playing. 

Before this season, Oden’s last regular-season appearance came in December 2009. More than five years came and went before he took the court in Washington, this time as a member of the Heat.

On Monday, he’ll take the court once more, against the team that first gambled on him and lost. But while he and the Blazers are liable to get nostalgic, past failures aren’t important.

“The biggest victory for him is that he is available and in uniform,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Oden earlier this month, per ESPN’s Michael Wallace.

Miami, Portland—it doesn’t matter where he’s playing. Oden is back, even though plenty of people doubted he would ever play again.

Victories for Oden don’t get any bigger. 

 

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Charlotte Bobcats 3/22/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Portland Trail Blazers looked to continue their recent win streak on Saturday against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Blazers were riding a two-game win streak and faced a Bobcats squad that had dropped two straight. 

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Portland Trail Blazers’ First-Ever Tweet Didn’t Have a Happy Ending

Looking back at the past can be humorous or just sad. For the Portland Trail Blazers, one decision will always haunt them.

Thanks to Twitter, we have easy access to the past. For its eighth birthday, the social media website gave users a way to discover any account’s first tweet. Some of the results, including Portland’s first tweet, are hilarious.

The 2007 NBA draft was expected to produce two can’t-miss players: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Knowing that it got to pick between the two players had Portland excited:

Finding a great big man is tough, so the Trail Blazers took Oden over Durant. 

Oops.

Oden played in a total of 82 games for Portland, and he never lived up to expectations. Durant, on the other hand, has turned into an absolute superstar. He was the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, and he has made five All-Star teams and won three scoring titles. He is also the front-runner to win the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player award.

The situation looked good for the Trail Blazers back in the day. Unfortunately for the organization, it didn’t have a happy ending.

[Portland Trail Blazers, h/t Deadspin

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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Portland Trail Blazers 3/18/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The slumping Portland Trail Blazers looked to get their season back on track on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Blazers had lost five of six and faced a Bucks squad that had lost four straight and seven of its last eight.

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