Third time's the charm, right? After failing in their attempts to land free agents Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap earlier this month, the Blazers have finally landed an impact free agent, agreeing to a reported 3-year, $21 million contract with point guard Andre Miller. (The third year of the deal will be a team option.)
Miller, like a lot of other free agents have found out this summer, learned that this is indeed a buyers' market. Portland was really the only team with enough cap space able to offer him anything more than the mid-level exception without the 76ers having to get involved in some sort of sign-and-trade deal. A yearly salary of $7 million for a veteran point guard who averaged 16.3 ppg, 6.5 apg and 4.5 rpg last season, and has only missed five games in the last nine years, is quite the bargain.
With this signing, the Blazers have significantly upgraded their point guard play. Last year, Portland used a three-man rotation with Steve Blake starting at the one, and Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless coming off the bench. While Blake was serviceable as a starter, he is not going to lead a team to a ring playing starter's minutes and is in the final year of his deal. Rodriguez was dealt to Sacramento in a draft-day trade, while Bayless is probably still a year or two away from being a major contributor. The Blazers also drafted St. Mary's point guard Patty Mills in the second round who now seems like a long shot to make the roster or may spend his first season in the D-League.
As expected, Portland made a major jump last season, improving by 13 wins and finishing tied with the second-best record out West. While I applaud the Miller signing, I'm not sure it catapults the Blazers any higher in the Western Conference. With the Lakers staying strong and San Antonio's acquisition of Richard Jefferson, they are clearly the teams to beat.
The only way Portland can enter the conversation is if Greg Oden actually lives up to his potential. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge will provide the scoring, while Miller brings his experience and floor leadership, but the Blazers will need Oden to fill that spot in the middle if they are to be taken seriously as title contenders.