Does Robin Lopez move YOUR needle?

Does Robin Lopez move YOUR needle?
July 4, 2013, 8:30 pm
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So the Trail Blazers Thursday added Robin Lopez -- known by some as the "defensive" or "oft-injured" Lopez brother (Brook is the "offensive" brother). And it didn't cost them much aside from cap space.

So, in essence, Portland has added Thomas Robinson and Lopez in the past few days at a salary cap cost of about eight and a half million bucks. Yes, there is room to add another player or two. But two moves took a significant chunk of cap space. This is a difficult thing to analyze because General Manager Neil Olshey basically brought in two players for almost nothing. Now before you start thinking this is something akin to pulling a rabbit out of his cap at midcourt during a halftime show in front of 20,000 people, understand that in this era of salary dumps, stuff like this happens. A lot.

Teams are more than willing to hand you a player in return for wiggling room under the cap. Particularly when they're in the hunt for big-ticket free agents.

And the Blazers, quite apparently, were not in the hunt for big-ticket free agents. And so far haven't been said to be involved in a trade for any premier players, either.

I'm not so sure that would be all that disappointing except I think Olshey himself has set the stage for thinking big. From almost his first day the GM has talked about being most interested in bringing high-impact players to Portland who "move the needle." And not being too interested in acquiring players who don't move that pesky needle.

This isn't a new expression for him, by the way... he used it when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers:

“We’re willing to do anything we can to move needle this year,” (Clippers GM Neil) Olshey said. “But unless it’s piece for the future that also gives us to win a championship this year, we’re not going to give up our long-term flexibility and assets to do that.”

Sounds familiar, of course. And you have to give the man credit for a consistent philosophy. Almost as soon as he got to Portland, he made it clear he wasn't into a long-time makeover but isn't about a quick fix, either:

'We can set this thing up over the next couple of years where we can have a five- to-seven year run, just having to tweak the roster here and there, and always be a factor for a Western Conference championship,' he said. 'I don't want to have to retool the roster every year. We're not looking for quick fixes. We're not looking for aging veterans who can slide us into the eighth spot (in the West), and then we're right back here a year ago, trying to figure out what to do. This is a seminal moment in the future of the Trail Blazers, and we need to handle it properly.

'Anybody we pursue, in terms of a major addition, will have to be somebody here long-term who we can build with. Once you have your nucleus together, you can add pieces. I would anticipate having younger players who can be a part of the organization for the long term. The goal is to look at the draft first, then look at deal flow and free agents who fit into our decision-making matrix. As we go forward, we want to make sure we have a core group of seven or eight players who are here for the foreseeable future.'

Recently, Olshey said there was no lengthy plan:

“Nobody wants to hear about a three-to-five-year plan,” Olshey said. “It’s why we matched Nic (Batum’s offer sheet) last year, didn’t trade any of our veterans, and we haven’t given up one asset. It’s why we are going to be aggressive again this summer.”

I cannot disagree with anything he says. You cannot mortgage your future but you don't want to get into a major rebuild mode, either. It's nice to add players without surrendering any assets.

But at a certain point, you have to ask if you've moved the needle while filling up your salary cap. This was a poor defensive team last season and not much has been done to correct that so far this off-season. Lopez? Well, he's a better defender than JJ Hickson, for sure. But his New Orleans team last year was one of the few in the league even worse on defense than Portland. It would be unfair to hold him responsible for a big Portland improvement. Robinson? Nope, at least not at this point of his career.

The bench was historically weak last season and hasn't gotten a lot better so far, either. It's gotten a year older, in the case of Victor Claver, Joel Freeland and Will Barton -- but we've yet to see how much improvement that will bring. C.J. McCollum? Perhaps... but let's not forget all rookies don't turn out like Damian Lillard.

The biggest fear for Blazer fans should be this: Has Portland done exactly what most teams DO NOT want to do this season -- improved just enough to crawl into the playoffs next season but lose in the first round, thus missing a chance at the lottery, which is destined in 2014 to be stocked with outstanding prospects?

I still have a feeling there are more moves ahead for Portland. But if not, I must ask you -- how much has the needle moved?

And at this point, the answer could certainly be:

A) Not much.

B) A lot.

C) Too much.

What do you think?