Saturday, July 14, 2007

Steve Blake is back

Well, Kevin Pritchard made a move I expected but didn’t want: he signed Steve Blake to a new deal. It isn’t official yet, and Pritchard wouldn’t comment on it, but I think it’s basically done. It sounds like the deal will be for two years with a team option on the third. That is the perfect length considering the personnel, roster, and financial considerations we should be taking into account. Everything I’ve read--which hasn’t been too much yet--makes it sound like this deal was for less than the full mid-level exception, which is about the right price, too. I like what Blake brings back to Portland for several reasons.
  1. Even though Blake has only been in the league four years (he was drafted out of Maryland by Washington in 2003), his time in college and the pros have shown him to be a serviceable starting point guard who provides leadership and consistency. This is a step up from even the best option the Blazers already had at the point, Jarrett Jack.

  2. One of the biggest needs for the Blazers next year will be consistent outside shooting, which is another skill Blake has shown he has. With Roy committing his offseason to improving his own outside shooting--a part of his game many said was weak coming into last season which he improved as the games went on--and the addition of a solid three-point shooting point guard, the Aldridge-Oden focused offense should be even better.

  3. It sounds like Ime Udoka will not be back with Portland next year because he might sign somewhere else. It also sounds like Joel Przybilla could be traded in a deal for Hedo Terkoglu (something I might talk about soon). If both of these guys are gone, Portland will really need one more guy at least to bring some intensity and grit to the team. I think Blake does that.

  4. There is also talk amongst some Blazer experts (i.e. Jason Quick, Henry Abbot, Dave Deckard, and Casey Holdahl) that Pritchard has been hoping to make Portland into more of a running team than it has been. He and McMillan have “butted heads” about this a little bit, which just means that Nate is unwilling to play a style that he doesn’t think his players can play well. He has said he would love to run, but that he won’t do it until the pieces fit. All the other guys that Portland brought in fit that style. As much as I like Jarrett Jack, which is a lot, he doesn’t run the break very well. Steve Blake does run the break very well. He’s also proven, for a short period of time, that he can play well on a team when he isn’t expected to get his own shot much. On this Blazers team he’ll only be getting his own shot on a few pick and rolls or pick and pops or when it gets kicked out to him from one of the big two down low.

  5. This might give Sergio a little more confidence in his place on this team, since it signals that we really do view him as the PG of the future for this team, with Blake being the stop-gap who will help Oden and Aldridge develop while working with Rodriguez in practice to help him develop his NBA chops.

As I’ve said before, I really do trust what Kevin Pritchard does with this team. I still would like to re-sign Udoka, would love to keep Jarrett Jack, and want to continue with the core that was in place before we made our great draft-day additions. But the moves he has made and has been rumored to be making still fit the timeline and address our needs as we try to build a dominant force in this league. Even with this deal we will be about 20 million under the cap for 2009 free agency. I took a look at who might be available then, and there are quite a few big name possibilities. There are plenty of small forwards in that group--right now, I know that they could be taken care of before then--who could be that “closer” Pritchard has talked about. At the same time, by then we should be really confident about how good these players are and are going to be, including the first three guys who we already think are going to be great pros:
  1. Greg Oden

  2. LaMarcus Aldridge

  3. Brandon Roy

  4. Channing Frye

  5. Travis Outlaw

  6. Martell Webseter

  7. Sergio Rodriguez

  8. James Jones

  9. Taurean Green

In addition to them, we should have a good idea--maybe even closer to the confidence about those first guys with a few of them--about how good these players are and are going to be:
  1. Rudy Fernández

  2. Josh McRoberts

  3. Joel Freeland

That only leaves a few guys from the team right now: Joel Przybilla (if he stays), Jarrett Jack (if he stays), Raef LaFrentz, Darius Miles, Petteri Koponen, Steve Blake (if he really is a Blazer again), and Hedo Terkoglu (if the rumors turn out to be true). Of those guys, we basically know what we’re getting from Przybilla, LaFrentz, Blake, and Terkoglu. Each of those guys brings a veteran presence and a defined set of skills that help him fill a role. Petteri Koponen is probably in the second group of players I listed above, but we might not be that sure even then of what his capabilities are. I think we’ll have a good idea, but not as good an idea as we will about those other three guys. Darius Miles is too much of an enigma to categorize. He could be retired by then, he could make a miraculous comeback and be the “closer” Pritchard was talking about, or he could just stay in this weird purgatory in which he’s lived since he first had his blow-out with Mo Cheeks. I would love to see the miraculous comeback, but I think that’s highly unlikely. I can only think of three of those guys who will be locked up for sure past that free agent period in 2009, and those guys are at the top of my first list.

All this is just to put one more reminder out there about how well the Blazers are building a contender. There is certainly a possibility that it won’t work out, but all signs point the other way. Even though I’ll be said if we trade Jack, I like Blake and trust Pritchard to continue making the right moves toward the long-term goal.

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