While the additions of free agents Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli are likely to improve the Portland Trail Blazers' roster going into the 2016-17 NBA season, it's the retaining of the team's young core of drafted talent that will serve to push things forward in Rip City in the years to come. The new contracts signed by restricted free agents Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard reinforce president of basketball operations Neil Olshey's belief in player development following career years from both players last season in Portland.
Crabbe, selected 31st overall and acquired by the Trail Blazers following a trade in the 2013 NBA Draft, averaged a career-high 10.3 points per game while shooting 39.4% from deep off the bench last season. Though his season was shortened by a pair of shoulder injuries, Leonard, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, recorded a new high of 8.4 points on 37.7% shooting from behing the three-point arc in 2015-16.
"We don’t draft guys here to let them walk away or we don’t take it for granted," Olshey said. "I think you’ve seen the commitment that we’ve made to the guys we’ve drafted. I think we’ve probably given a longer leash to the guys we have drafted because, look, we’ve got to capitalize on draft, trades and player development. We can’t buy our way out of trouble the way that some higher profile destination markets can at times."
Numbers aside, perhaps what's most important in bringing back Crabbe and Leonard is their place in the Portland locker room and their desire to remain in Portland to build on last season's playoff appearance.
"I wanted to be here, I love the city, love the organization, they’ve backed me," Leonard told the media Friday. "I wanted to continue to grow with the team. Again, I think I bring something unique, I think that this team is absolutely going in the right direction, so to be a part of that and, again, having that feeling of not playing in the playoffs last year was tough on me. Again, great fans, great city. The ultimate goal was to be back here, to continue to grow. I’m just excited, that’s it, that’s all I can say. It’s very bright."
Crabbe echoed a similar sentiment toward the Rose City.
"It was exciting just knowing I was going to be back here," the 24-year-old Crabbe said of his free agency experience. "I love this organization. We’ve built some great things here. With the success that we had last year and the new pieces we added, it’s only going to get better for us."
The retention of both players keeps together a young Blazers core of which 27-year-olds Evan Turner and Ed Davis are the team's eldest veterans. Portland's mission to further last season's success begins when the team officially reconvenes in mid-September for training camp.