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With the 2021 NBA free-agent class quickly depleting, teams who hoarded cap space will have to pivot off their initial plans
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and Paul George all extended or re-signed with their current teams which will lock them up for several years and takes them off the market headed into the 2021 NBA offseason.

You can say what you will about the length, value, and reasoning of the contracts, but the deals are done and they’re no longer changing situations.

This came as a shock to several franchises who had purposely been planning their salary sheets so that there was enough space to fit a max free agent, Giannis being the most important out of all of them with his standing in the league.

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So, if you’re the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, or Dallas Mavericks, three teams each with reported interest in the Greek Freak, what do you do now?

On top of that, teams like the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Cleveland Cavaliers among others will find themselves naturally creating a large amount of cap space. But all this does is add more names to the NBA’s musical chairs game. Now there are fewer chairs to go around.

Here are some avenues the teams can pursue with their new situation:

NBA restricted free agency
While the upcoming unrestricted free agency class took a hit with the extensions, the restricted class definitely didn’t and there are a few names on the list who you can see will benefit greatly from these teams being flush with cash.

Going in descending order from their salary this year, you have: Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Cheap Zach Collins Jersey, Nicolo Melli, and then notable names from later in the draft include John Collins, Jarrett Allen, and Josh Hart.

Now the deal with restricted free agency is that if one of these players finds a contract elsewhere, the original team will have three days to decide whether they want to match the offer, keeping them on the team, or decline and let their young player walk. This tends to end in one of three ways; first, the player realizes there isn’t much of a market for their skills outside of the one situation or the player gets overpaid on an offer elsewhere and they end up overpaid on one of the two teams.

A good example of this in practice is when then-Portland Trail Blazer Cheap Allen Crabbe Jersey signed a four-year, $75 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, a team that had nothing else to do with their cap space and wanted to take a flier on a young prospect. Portland matched the offer, bringing back their wing on what quickly became one of the least-desirable contracts in the league.

(Side note: the Nets eventually traded for Crabbe during the life of that contract. Never give up on your dreams kids).

Crabbe wasn’t worth the $75 million he was given and that makes sense now but at the time it was believable to think he could grow into a better player than he was in a bigger role. You had to squint really hard but yes, it was possible.

What’s to say one of these teams can’t look at Lonzo Ball, John Collins, or Lauri Markkanen and think there’s room for growth?

The only cause for concern is that if you’re going to pay them a large-enough contract for the initial team to decline, you’re making a bet on the player that they’ll grow into (and maybe beyond) it.

ESPN’s and The Hoop Collective’s Brian Windhorst reported that John Collins turned down a $90 million contract from the Atlanta Hawks with the idea that he deserves more.

Lonzo and the New Orleans Pelicans “remain positive” that the two can come to an agreement next offseason according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but if they’re so positive, how come it wasn’t done before the deadline?

And who knows what Markkanen thinks he’s worth as NBC Sports Chicago’s KC Johnson says:

“[Chicago Bulls and Markkanen] were never close on a deal”.

Sign an NBA player that isn’t an MVP and DPOY
Due to the tampering rules, we don’t know for certain that Miami, Toronto, and Dallas all cleared their cap space to pursue two-time Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo since he’s on a different team. But we can pretty well assume they didn’t clear their space for DeMar DeRozan.

Assuming Kawhi Leonard, who has a player option for the 2021-22 season, stays with the LA Clippers in some capacity and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin pick up their options, the best players available are quickly deteriorating.

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 29 | Damon Stoudamire
Games Played with Blazers: 529 Regular Season, 46 Postseason

*PTS: 12.8 | AST: 5.7 | FG%: 40.5% | 3PT%: 35.9%

*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland

Joined Club: February 1998, acquired from the Toronto Raptors with Walt Williams and Carlos Rogers for Kenny Anderson, Cheap Gary Trent Jersey, Cheap Alvin Williams Jersey, two first-round picks, and a second-round pick

Departed Club: August 2005, departed in free agency

Place in History: Damon Stoudamire was no secret coming out of Portland’s Wilson High School and the University of Arizona. After scoring 23 per game his senior year in college, he was more than ready for the limelight when the Toronto Raptors selected him 7th overall in the 1995 NBA Draft.

Stoudamire had confidence and speed to burn. If his Rookie of the Year award in 1995-96 hadn’t confirmed his legitimacy, his 20 points per game scoring average during his first three seasons in Toronto would have. At 5’10, this young, fearless point guard was taking the league by storm.

The bulk of his precipitation would not come in the form of Canadian snow, but pure Pacific Northwest rain. Having made his mark, proving that he belonged among the best NBA point guards, Stoudamire was ready to move back to Portland, taking his hometown Trail Blazers to new heights.

As 1997 turned to 1998, the Blazers had the exact same idea. Perhaps the most unusual thing about the deal was that everybody saw it coming. The Blazers had made moves for stars before, via the draft and in trade. They were rare, though, and invariably a surprise. In this case, mutual attraction between Stoudamire and Portland had been rumored since the start of the season. Given General Manager Bob Whitsitt’s ability to draw big names and a willingness to make deals, it seemed all too perfect. Within a period of weeks, local sports talk turned from, “Could we get Damon?” to, “When will we get him?”

As it turned out, the date was February 13th, 1998. Friday the 13th might as well have been Christmas for the Blazers as they traded Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, and Alvin Williams (plus three draft picks) to the Raptors for Stoudamire, shooting small forward Walt Williams, and little-used Carlos Rogers.

The deal was, somewhat understandably, compared to the three-player, two-pick trade that had brought Cheap Kiki Vandeweghe Jersey to the Blazers more than a decade earlier. Except this time it was speculated the Blazers had paid less for a potentially amazing return.

That assessment wasn’t all wrong. Combined, Anderson, Trent, and the outgoing Williams had played 9559 minutes in Portland. Over the next 7.5 years, Stoudamire would play 17,497, good for 10th on the Blazers’ all-time list, behind only Cheap Terry Porter Jersey and Cheap Damian Lillard Jersey among point guards. The Blazers had found their man.

Despite the overwhelming hype that accompanied his entrance, it would take Stoudamire a while to find his footing. He scored 20 points only three times in Portland during the remainder of that season, having done it 25 times with the Raptors. Walt Williams actually fit better in the system at first. But Stoudamire notched seven double-digit assist games in 22 tries with his new team. Even though their playoffs run ended abruptly at the hands of the arch-nemesis Los Angeles Lakers, Stoudamire came through with strong performances of 17, 18, and 24 points in the final three games.

Though Stoudamire’s future looked—and was— bright, he would never return to the heady scoring days of his Toronto debut. Multiple factors conspired against it. His brilliance came as a drive-and-dish guard who could also pull up for mid-range shots. That style of offense is predicated on him controlling the ball, drawing in the defense, then scoring craftily or tossing to jump-shooting teammates. Playing alongside Isaiah Rider, Cheap Rasheed Wallace Jersey, and Cheap Arvydas Sabonis Jersey required a different approach. They weren’t going to wait on the wings for catch-and-shoots. They needed touches, lane space, and plenty of time with the rock. Adding Jim Jackson, Steve Smith, and Cheap Scottie Pippen Jersey in subsequent years wouldn’t change that story.

Stoudamire also played during a transitional period when the NBA began to value the three-pointer more. This was prior to the modern rule changes that would make point guards all but untouchable, though. Instead of finding an unhindered buffet of shots in the halfcourt, Stoudamire found his bread-and-butter drives decreasing as the demands on his somewhat-streaky long-range jumper increased.

This would hold true on the other end as well. Few point guards were quicker on their feet than Damon. When opponents put the ball on the floor, he could stay with them. As enemies began to pull up and shoot over him, though, his 5’10 height began to show. Few players improved their position defense as dramatically as Stoudamire did during his years in Portland. When he was young, defense seemed an afterthought. As a veteran, he was always in the right place at the right time, a true leader in that respect. He just didn’t have the wingspan to stop the new breed of NBA guards when they rose and fired.

With those limitations understood, Stoudamire was clearly one of the better point guards in a franchise known for them. When he found daylight, he could score from anywhere. Lacking daylight, he simply created it.

Notice the play-by-play call in this video, a chronicle of Stoudamire’s 20-32, 54-point performance against the New Orleans Hornets in 2005. This was late in his career, after he had already lost a bit of that famous speed (but none of the swagger). Listen to the announcer exclaim, “You’ve got to be kidding! What are we looking at here???” That’s the reaction Damon inspired.

Now imagine all those jumpers combined with the ability to get in the lane against anyone, anywhere. Stoudamire had all of that and more.

Because he was a famed scorer, Stoudamire’s playmaking ability sometimes goes underrated. He was a floor general. You’d have to be in order to even touch the ball in the company he kept. At different times, Greg Anthony, Jeff McInnis, and Nick Van Exel might have moved into his spot, while Pippen, Smith, Wallace, Cheap Zach Randolph Jersey, or Cheap Bonzi Wells Jersey could have dominated the action, making him irrelevant after the ball crossed the timeline. How many famous, long-term point guards played on LeBron James teams, or with Kobe and Shaq? Given the makeup of the team, Stoudamire could have become an asterisk in a second.

That seldom happened. Damon kept everyone fed. On his teams, the ball moved. To this day, he trails only Porter, Lillard, and Cheap Clyde Drexler Jersey in franchise assists. And he dished every one of them during the most chaotic, turbulent decade the Trail Blazers have ever experienced.

In the Summer of 2005, it became obvious that Stoudamire’s career would last longer than Portland’s ability to do anything with it. With his team desperately in need of restructuring, Stoudamire joined the Memphis Grizzlies. He’d play there for two and a half seasons, then sign with the San Antonio Spurs to complete his NBA run at the end of 2008. Thirteen years after that R.O.Y. season, Stoudamire was still the same player: capable, in control, crafty, and dangerous.

Cheap Damon Stoudamire Jersey run in Portland may not have been everything people dreamed of. He didn’t average 20. His teams didn’t win titles. He ran afoul of authorities and headlines for indulging in marijuana…then illegal, not so much now. [Here’s your official notice: from now on, we’re officially ignoring any supposed player “infractions” involving cannabis. It was commonplace in the league for legitimate and defensible reasons. You can buy it at your corner strip mall today. If that’s the only thing tarnishing a player’s reputation, we need to apologize to them, not for them.]

Despite all that, Stoudamire’s time in Portland was authentic, productive, and welcome. Both the Blazers and their fans were better off because he suited up for them.

For the long run, the dazzling high spots, the assists, and continued presence in Portland discussions while coaching on the left coast, Damon Stoudamire earns the 29th spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 players and influencers list.

The top names on the list are DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Andre Drummond, Otto Porter Jr., Jrue Holiday (player option), Cheap LaMarcus Aldridge Jersey, Mike Conley, Victor Oladipo, Dennis Schroder, Evan Fournier, Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell (PO), Norman Powell (PO), and Lou Williams to name a few.

The only player on that list who’s under 30 and has “superstar potential” is Victor Oladipo, a player who has had his ups and downs with the Indiana Pacers so far. His 2020-21 campaign has gotten off to a great start so far and many are saying he’s back to the Oladipo we saw two seasons ago when he won the Most Improved Player award.

Imagining Victor alongside Luka Doncic in Dallas, Jimmy Butler in Miami and Pascal Siakam in Toronto (assuming the Raptors turns things around from their early-season struggles) is exciting.

But if one of these playoff teams with cap space miss out on Oladipo, where do they turn? Most of the other players are on the wrong side of 30 and if a team approaches one of the lesser free agents, they’re going to know that there’s the opportunity to offer them more money if they don’t want to overpay.

For example, I don’t believe Montrezl Harrell is worthy of a max contract. More than he’s on now with the Los Angeles Lakers, but not max-worthy. It’d be hard for one of these teams to offer him a lesser contract, especially since he spurned the Clippers for not offering him what he wanted.

Sit on your hands and don’t waste it
Just because a team wanted to sign (potentially) the best player in the world in Giannis, it doesn’t mean they have to still go out and spend the money.

We’re seeing just how threatening a good playoff team with cap space can be to the rest of the league. The Milwaukee Bucks overpaid on the trade market for Jrue Holiday in the eyes of some as a way to show Giannis how committed they are to winning and putting a contender around him.

Yes, in the case of Luka Doncic it’s now or never with an inevitable max extension coming to Luka in two years but in the case of Miami and Toronto, they can either go for a win-now move by signing one of the aging players, look to bolster their young talent on the restricted free agency market or wait and see what the trade market looks like a year from now. Nobody would’ve known James Harden was requesting a trade before he did.

And in the case of the cap space teams who aren’t in the playoff picture right now. When/if a superstar does request a trade, there’s the possibility of salary dumping, meaning a team can sit there and wait for the load up on bad money with the payment being assets.

NEXT: The Charlotte Hornets Were Right About Gordon Hayward
It’s not the end of the world for the 2021 free agency class but if I had to say anything, it’d be that some restricted free agents are about to see a whole lot of money thrown their way.

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The Portland Trail Blazers guard is entering his third season in the NBA, a time when the 21-year-old loaded with talent could be expected to flourish. It’s altogether likely, however, that Simons could develop into a baller this season and still not receive enough minutes to adequately announce his arrival while playing behind Lillard and Cheap CJ McCollum Jersey.

It’s a tough reality for Simons. Had he been selected in 2018 NBA draft by a team that actually needed a guard, Simons might already be a rising star. As it turned out, he ended up in Portland, where the potent backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum run the show.

Many in that situation might become frustrated. So far, not Simons. He said he doesn’t worry about what he can’t control and instead values all that he can learn from Lillard and McCollum while continuing to prepare himself to seize the moment when his time to shine arrives.

“I love being here, I love being in Portland, learning from Dame and CJ,” Simons said. “That’s the best backcourt in the league. I think learning from them, especially as a young guy coming out of high school, I just want to soak in as much as I can and keep learning from them. And then when my opportunity comes to go out there and play, I’ll be ready and be able to compete at a high level.”

SIMONS IS THE BACKUP POINT GUARD — SORT OF

Many outside of the organization wondered if Portland would sign a veteran point guard to back up Lillard, especially given that Simons’ minutes were inconsistent last season and when he did play, he wasn’t always able to handle important minutes.

Trail Blazers vs Warriors
Anfernee Simons shoots a three-pointer as the Portland Trail Blazers face the Golden State Warriors in an NBA game at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Sean Meagher/Staff

Neil Olshey, president of basketball operations, didn’t see things that way. He declared last week that he already had a backup point guard and it was Simons.

Lillard shared in that vote of confidence.

“Ant is super talented,” Lillard said. “He came in the league young and it takes time. It takes experience.”

Simons, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, didn’t play in college but instead attended a prep school before becoming eligible for the draft. He played just seven minutes per game in 20 outings as a rookie. Last season, his on-court time elevated to nearly 21 minutes per game over 70 games.

Along the way, Simons flashed some brilliant moments.

Nov. 2-10, 2019: Simons had the most productive stretch of his career, scoring in double figures five consecutive times while averaging 15.8 points per game. He shot 27 of 55 (49%) from the field and 12 of 28 (42.3%) from three-point distance.

Jan. 1 at Miami: Scored 19 points with four assists and four rebounds, plus two vicious dunks against the Heat.

Feb. 12 at Memphis: Scored a season-high 22 points with seven rebounds in 28 minutes while making 6 of 7 three-point attempts.

Still, when the season restarted at the NBA bubble, Simons’ play became greatly reduced while the minutes for Lillard and McCollum increased. Granted, each of the eight bubble seeding games had playoff implications for the Blazers, so it made sense for the team to lean heavily on Lillard and McCollum. But at the same time, there were moments when it seemed that having a reliable veteran backup point guard to give Lillard some relief would have been nice.

But that didn’t convince Olshey, Lillard and coach Terry Stotts that the Blazers should acquire such a player and block Simons’ development.

All three pointed out that the team’s true backup point guard is essentially McCollum. Lillard played 37 1/2 minutes last season. That left 10 1/2 minutes available at point guard that were mostly gobbled up by McCollum, whom Stotts called a very good backup point guard.

McCollum played 36 1/2 minutes per game, with Gary Trent Jr. seeing a lot of time as his backup at shooting guard.

So why, Olshey said, would the team spend money on a veteran point guard who would see little time and probably wouldn’t be better than Simons, whom the team regards as a potential future star?

Cheap Carmelo Anthony Jersey has started an informal petition for the Portland Trail Blazers to give him the No. 7 of the team. That number was last worn by Cheap Brandon Roy Jersey, one of the best players the Blazers and the league have seen in recent years. The shooting guard was something else, an incredible talent that couldn’t reach his full potential due to injuries.

After he retired from the league in 2013, nobody used that jersey on the Blazers but Melo wants to change that. While talking to reporters on media day, Anthony revealed his desire to use the No. 7 jersey, the number he used during his time with the New York Knicks. Back in the day, Melo explained that was the subtraction of his prior numbers, 22 and 15. Since neither is available on the Blazers, Melo has decided to make a push for No. 7.

“If Portland gives me number 7 this year, I’ll be happy. I’ll be thrilled. We need a petition for that. We need a petition, I need number 7.”

Last season he decided to wear #00 but this year things could change.

Some Blazers fans are cool with the idea and some are pushing for the team to make it happen. The NBA starts Dec. 22 and we’ll see what number the future Hall of Famer will be using.

Speaking of McCollum …

He is a prime example of a player who didn’t do much his first two seasons and then came into his own in Year 3. McCollum averaged under seven points per game during his first two seasons and then struck with 20.8 in his third season.

The differences between McCollum and Simons, however, are twofold. First, McCollum was afforded a chance to shine after the team didn’t re-sign guards Cheap Wesley Matthews Jersey or Arron Afflalo.

Also, McCollum’s third season came after having played four years of college basketball at Lehigh. Simons attended a prep school for one year before becoming draft-eligible and is only 21 now.

FOLLOWING TRENT’S EXAMPLE

Taken in the second round of the 2018 NBA draft was guard Gary Trent Jr., who unlike Simons had the benefit of playing at Duke. Still, he was taken much later than Simons, yet has become more of a factor sooner.

Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons
Rookies Cheap Anfernee Simons Jersey, left, and Cheap Gary Trent Jr. Jersey dance during the Portland Trail Blazers’ annual preseason fan fest at the Moda Center on Sunday, September 30, 2018. Sean Meagher/Staff

Lillard last season raved about how much Trent had grown from his rookie year. Trent really blossomed at the bubble, where he shot the lights out, ultimately finishing the season at a team-high 41.8% on three-point field goal attempts.

Simons said what he has learned most from watching Trent’s ascension came at the defensive end. Trent’s aggressiveness on the perimeter, getting in the faces of scorers and relentlessly harassing them, has impressed Simons.

“That’s something that I really didn’t do last year that I should have,” Simons said. “I was more of a conservative (defender). Tried to not foul.”

That didn’t work out too well.

“I ended up getting a lot of fouls anyway,” said Simons, who averaged 1.9 personal fouls over 20.7 minutes played per game.

Simons said he hopes raising his defensive play will help make him more valuable, as it did Trent.

PG SUMMER SCHOOL

This leads us to the question of what Simons truly is as a player. He hasn’t really operated well as a backup point guard, averaging just 1.4 assists per game last season. That’s not very point guard-like. Simons is probably best described as a combo guard who leans more toward being a natural shooting guard.

“I think I can play both,” Simons said. “Growing up my natural position was the 2 because I could score the ball so well. So, I think eventually I can grow into being a point guard. But my natural position right now is the 2-guard, being able to score.”

Developing as a point guard could be a must for Simons to see more playing time this season.

He said he spent a lot of time this offseason in Santa Barbara, California, working diligently on developing his point guard skills. Reading defenses. Directing an offense. Making better decisions. Identifying passing angles.

Portland Trail Blazers vs Philadelphia 76ers
Cheap Damian Lillard Jersey (#0) chats with Anfernee Simons (#1) during a break in action as the Portland Trail Blazers face the Philadelphia 76ers an an NBA game at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Sean Meagher/Staff

Developing as a passer, he said, would make him more of a double threat and further enhance his scoring.

“Just trying to take the pressure off of myself from just trying to be a scorer every single time I come down the floor,” he said.

Lillard said he worked out with Simons during the offseason when they were in the same city and believes his time to shine is coming.

“It’s just a matter of being able to think the game fast, being able to be consistent, being able for the team to count on you, regularly,” Lillard said.

Simons said Lillard has been a good teacher, taking the time to explain the details of playing point guard.

“I think him being there and kind of coaching me up and teaching me everything has helped me out a lot this summer …” Simons said. “Him being in my corner is always a blessing.”

At some point this season, it’s likely that the Blazers will need Simons to step up in a meaningful game. The team won’t have a veteran to turn to, but will put its faith in a still-developing 21-year-old oozing with talent but short in experience.

“I believe in Ant,” Lillard said.

That vote of confidence could be enough to push Simons to greater heights.