Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Decisions have to be made about and by various members of the 2014-15 Trail Blazers, including center Robin Lopez.Meyers Leonard is getting married in Portland. Chris Kaman is going shooting and boating in Michigan. Robin Lopez will vacation in Prague. Wesley Matthews will rehab, rehab, rehab, wherever he may be.

And the rest of the Trail Blazers -- and in some cases, former Trail Blazers -- have dispersed for various parts of the globe after the season-ending loss to Memphis in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Seven players -- including LaMarcus Aldridge, Matthews and Lopez -- become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

"I don't think it's hit anybody yet that we could see a lot of changes," point guard Damian Lillard says. "Some people might not be back."

A look at some of the issues facing general manager Neil Olshey and the Blazers this summer …

• Aldridge will command a maximum contract, either from Portland or another of a variety of suitors. Once the All-Star power forward reaches a decision, the dominoes will fall with the other free agents as Olshey puts together his roster for October training camp.

"When you have a franchise player who is unrestricted, that will dictate a great deal of what we do this summer," Olshey says. "We have a good enough sample size now to make a decision going forward about what the best direction for the organization is going to be."

While Olshey didn't say it, it is expected the Blazers will pursue Matthews and Lopez as well as Aldridge. Olshey understands both players will receive offers on the free-agent market.

"Some of the best free agents on the market happen to be our guys," Olshey says.

"Keeping this group together and building off of it is what the goal has always been. "This (collective-bargaining agreement) is favorable for teams that want to retain their players. It gives us a homecourt advantage in doing so. That's what we hope to accomplish."

He said the club will have contingency plans in place in case any or all of the Blazers' free agents land elsewhere.

"Not every decision that is going to made (by the Blazers in free agency) is in our hands," the third-year Portland GM says. "All of our unrestricted guys have value. They'll be pursued by multiple teams. All we can hope is they embrace what we've done with them the last three years, and they value us as much as we value them.

"We have contingencies in place for every potential outcome across the board -- not just with our free agents, but for where we go with the draft or trades."

Olshey says the Blazers front office will stay in communication with the free agents and their agents through July 1.

"I'd like to think we'll have a pretty good idea of what direction they want to go in at that point," he says. "Part of our job is to continue the cycle of bringing in new talent. We are in a great place regardless of what happens in free agency, (but) we will be a stronger organization if we return a lot of our free agents."

• Aside from Aldridge, Matthews, 28, is likely to be the most-pursued of the Blazers' free agents, even as he rehabs from March surgery for a torn Achilles tendon.

"As evidenced by our 11-15 record (actually 11-16) without Wesley and a first-round playoff exit for a team we thought had chance to compete for the Western Conference title, we know how important he is," Olshey says. "We know his value to us; we also know he's going to have market value around the league."

Former Blazers coach P.J. Carlesimo -- who served as ESPN television analyst for the third game of the Portland-Memphis series -- says the loss of Matthews cost the Blazers a legitimate shot to beat the Grizzlies.

"He's a fourth-quarter scorer like Damian Lillard," Carlesimo says. "He's an excellent 3-point shooter, especially in the fourth quarter. He makes the difference defensively. "He was also a spiritual leader. He's as much or more than anybody the heart and soul of the team. It would be hard to exaggerate how important he was, how important his presence was. He was missed in so many ways."

Matthews, who made $7.25 million this season, should join Jimmy Butler and Monta Ellis as the most sought-after shooting guards in free agency. The question will be, will teams be scared off by his injury?

"You tell me," Matthews says when posed the question by a reporter. "I feel like my stock's gone up."

He means because of how much the Blazers missed his toughness, defense and leadership skills down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs.

Matthews said after the injury occurred that he expects to return to playing basketball in August. He reiterates that now.

"I said five months; people are holding me to it," he says. "I expect to be ready by August."

Can Matthews come back from the injury 100 percent?

"It's a legitimate question," he says. "It's a legitimate fear. I just don't have (a fear). I think of ways I'm going to be better. I'm going to be 150 percent."

Matthews has been noncommittal on his desire to re-sign with Portland. When it was suggested by a reporter that, in a perfect world, he would return to the Blazers, Matthews still wouldn't bite.

"Yeah, but so much stuff can happen between now and when free agency starts," he says. "Ideally, perfect situation, yeah, who doesn't want to go for the ideal, perfect situation? But right now, my focus is on getting (the foot) right."

• Lopez, who has been with the Blazers the past two seasons, sounds as if he'd like to return.

"Nothing is 100 percent certain," the 7-foot center says. "So far, I've loved my time in Portland. I would love to come back. I'm very open to coming back."

Lopez made $5.34 million in the second year of two-year, $10 million contract. Will his decision be based on money or on which team is the best fit?

"It will be a combination of the two," he says. "Whatever can offer the best fit, but there are a few different factors. I don't have a list of parameters right now."

Lopez averaged 9.6 points and 6.7 rebounds and led the Blazers with 84 blocked shots in only 59 regular-season games. The numbers were down to 5.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in the five playoff games as Leonard stole some of his playing time, perhaps an ominous note for Lopez's future in Rip City.

The center spot will be loaded in free agency this summer, with the likes of Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Enes Kanter, Omar Asik and Robin's brother, Brook Lopez, on the market. It may be that the Blazers will take a shot at one of the other free-agent post men and let Robin Lopez walk.

Robin won't sweat it. He says he'll vacation in Prague and be involved in an NBA tour in Asia over the summer. And there will be a "few weddings" for him to attend.

"I should have been best man in two of them, but they gave it to their brothers," Lopez quips. "So I'll be sucking up to a couple of other friends."

• After what he calls "the worst season" of his seven-year career with the Blazers, Nicolas Batum says he will scale back his activity this summer.

A year ago, Batum loaded up with camps and clinics in addition to helping France win a bronze medal in the World Cup.

"I'm going to change my routines, and I'm going to get more rest," says Portland's veteran small forward, who will make $11.8 million in the final year of his contract in 2015-16. "I just want to be myself again, that's it. To just be Nic Batum."

Batum will participate with the French team in EuroBasket in late summer, "but I won't be there before Aug. 1," he says. "I'll have three months off.

"I don't think I'll touch a basketball for the next two or three weeks. I'll fly back to France next week. It will time to just relax and free my mind. Then I'll get back on the court and focus on my game and my body. I want to be ready for next year."

Batum says he will have the Blazers' staff prepare video of what he calls "highlights about all the bad things of the season for me. I don't care about the good things. I really want to be a great, great player."

• The emergence of Leonard and second-year guard CJ McCollum was the best thing that happened for the Blazers in the playoffs.

"CJ and Meyers were the positives," coach Terry Stotts says. "There weren't a lot of positives in the playoffs, but those two shone brightly."

After the first two games at Memphis in which McCollum appeared overmatched -- he shot a combined 4 for 21 from the field -- the former Lehigh standout put together games of 26, 18 and 33 points off the bench.

"I felt bad for CJ his first two years with us," Stotts says. The start of his NBA career "has been so disjointed. He gets hurt in training camp and doesn't come back till January to one of the best teams in the league, and doesn't have much opportunity to play. Same thing this year, especially after we traded for Arron (Afflalo). He has had the perseverance to stay with it and get back into a groove and do it on a playoff stage, where he showed a lot of character and talent."

Matthews took on a mentor's role with McCollum the past two seasons.

"No question, he has talent," Matthews says. "He has a knack to score. He's crafty. (In the playoffs) he grew confidence. Once you see one shot go, another shot go, make a good read, get a defensive stop, it starts to take over and your talent comes to the surface.

"He's one of those kids who wants to learn, wants to be really good. That's one of the things I respect the hell out with CJ. He had to grow up in this playoff series, and he did that."

Leonard's accuracy from the 3-point line became a major weapon in the last three games of the Memphis series, too. But the overall development of the 7-1 third-year pro's game has evolved since his rookie season.

"It's been a three-year development," Stotts says. "It's not like he woke up in the playoffs and said, 'I'm a player.' He has worked extremely hard over that period to become the player he has become.

"Meyers took a lot of criticism throughout his first two, 2 1/2 years. This year, it got to the point where people were glad to see him going into game and disappointed when he didn't take a shot. He was getting cheered on. It's fun to see that maturation, basketball-wise and emotionally."

Leonard -- who is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this summer -- and McCollum will go into October training camp as favorites to at least win rotation roles.

"They answered a lot by what they did in the playoffs," Stotts says. "Players make their mark in the playoffs. One of the more pleasing things for me was with those guys, coming back form a good Game 4 and backing it up with a good Game 5. To come back on the road in a close-out game and have a game -- that was the most encouraging thing they did in the series.

"We have valued them from the day we drafted them. The fact that they have continued to improve, continued to work, I was glad that was able to pay off for the and for us."

Leonard is looking at an important summer, even if his contract isn't extended. He will wed fiancé Elle Bielfeldt in Portland in August. Then they'll honeymoon in Italy.

• Veterans Chris Kaman and Steve Blake have options on the two-year contracts they signed before last season. The second year of Kaman's deal is a team option; the final year of Blake's pact is his own.

Kaman was superb off the bench through the first half of the season, but the second half was disappointing as he dealt with injuries. The 7-footer hopes he will be back next season.

"I definitely want to play next season," says Kaman, 33. "I would love to play for the Blazers. It was a great season. For the most part, I was able to display and do my thing. I just told Terry he's the first coach I haven't hated at the end of the season since Mike Dunleavy.

"The culture here is something to look at. Guys like it here. Guys like what they have going. Guys want to be part of it. It's tough in the West. It's not easy to win 50 games. To have something like we have here is pretty special."

Kaman will return to his home in Cedar Rapids, Mich., with wife Emilie and their infant son.

"Got to take care of my boat and get on the water a little bit," he says.

And Kaman will again invite Leonard to come out for a week and train with him during the summer.

"I'm on the downslope of my career," Kaman says. "The best thing I can do is to help Meyers improve again. I knew that was a part of my role coming in here.

"He really stepped it up this season. He's 23 years old. He has a super amount of potential. He's so passive right now. Eventually he's going to figure out what to do there. He's going to be a tough guard for a lot of people."

• One thing the Blazers won't see in the offseason, Olshey says, is a coaching change.

"(Stotts) has just won 54 and 51 games (the past two regular seasons), and (the coaching staff) did a great job developing our guys," Olshey says. "It wouldn't even cross my mind. The coaches did an outstanding job this season."

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