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John Schuhmann

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Portland's talented trio of (from left) Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden still need help.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Deadline deal would have prevented Portland's tough summer

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jul 17 2009 11:42AM

Strike two.

The Trail Blazers swung and missed for the second time when the Jazz said that they will match Portland's offer sheet for restricted free agent Paul Millsap. This comes two weeks after unrestricted free agent Hedo Turkoglu changed his mind and decided to sign with Raptors rather than the Blazers.

Two targets, two deals offered and nothing to show for it. With Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez and Greg Oden, the Blazers are primed to take another step forward as a franchise, but they're missing another piece. They need an upgrade at point guard or small forward, as well as veteran leadership and a defensive stopper. And with other playoff teams improving all around them, Portland has yet to find their man.

Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard has $7.7 million of cap space to spend this summer, but his options are limited. Almost every free agent who could make an impact has signed elsewhere, and several options to improve via trade are gone as well.

But Pritchard should look back at February's trade deadline as the real blown opportunity.

Raef LaFrentz was in the final year of his seven-year contract and was getting paid about $12.7 million last season. Any team that traded for him at the deadline would have gotten a rebate for 80 percent of the prorated portion of his contract. For teams looking to save money (and there are many of them), LaFrentz was the most desirable trade-deadline acquisition in the league.

Unfortunately for Portland, he was never dealt. A $12.7 million contract can bring a team a player (or players) getting paid close to $16 million in a trade. And for you non-math majors, $16 million is more than twice the $7.7 million the Blazers have to spend.

Portland said it was happy letting LaFrentz's contract expire and using the $7.7 million to get what it needs. With that cap space sill unused, however, the Blazers can't be happy now.

The Blazers could have swapped LaFrentz's contract for Vince Carter or Richard Jefferson, as the Nets and Bucks were clearly looking to shed salary. There were also rumors that Pritchard pursued a deadline deal for Charlotte's Gerald Wallace and one Blazers' representative denied reports the team tried to work a deadline deal for Shaquille O'Neal.

Last month, Orlando, San Antonio and Cleveland pulled the trigger on deals to acquire Carter, Jefferson and O'Neal, respectively. The Magic essentially chose Carter over Finals starters Turkoglu and Courtney Lee, while the Spurs and Cavs got Jefferson and O'Neal for nothing more than trinkets.

Portland and San Antonio had identical records last season, but there's no doubt the Spurs have made their team better. And they did it by getting a guy the Blazers could have had in February. Jefferson is the kind of player the Blazers need, and Pritchard's inaction not only kept his own team from improving, but it helped a competitor.

The summer is far from over and there are still free agents that can help the Blazers. David Lee, like Millsap, would give Portland frontline depth. But Lee is also a restricted free agent and the Knicks would likely match a deal similar to the one Portland gave Millsap.

Pritchard's reluctance to include one of his young players squashed a deal that would have brought point guard Kirk Hinrich to Portland. Like Hinrich, Andre Miller would be a point guard upgrade, but reportedly the Blazers aren't interested.

On the frontline, Glen Davis and Lamar Odom are possibilities. Odom's negotiations with the Lakers are at a standstill, so the Blazers could swoop in, offer Odom the contract he seeks (reportedly $50 million over five years) and take the champs down a notch. Odom is versatile on the court and a adding championship-winner to a young roster that needs to learn how to win in the postseason would be a good thing.

Best of all, Odom's unrestricted.

Of course, strike three might not be far away for Portland.

The Lakers could change their minds with Odom now that a Western Conference rival has the cap space to steal him. Reports out of L.A. indicate that when push comes to shove, Odom is most likely to remain a Laker. That leaves the Blazers almost out of options to improve their roster. Pritchard was aggressive in his attempts to get Turkoglu and Millsap, but his he missed his best chance to make Portland a championship contender five months ago.

If you have a question or comment for NBA.com's John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.

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