30 November 2011
In the coming weeks before the NBA tips off their revised post-lockout schedule, you’re bound to hear a number of names associated with the Portland Trail Blazers as they attempt to secure their frontline.
A free-agent shortlist is already circulating featuring Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes among others.
But there is one name that’s been associated with Portland during past offseasons that may be soon forgotten in the Blazers future big man plans altogether:
Portland still holds the rights to Freeland after selecting the 6-foot-11 power forward and center 30th overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. Since proceeding to stash him in Europe for developmental purposes, Freeland’s played for Gran Canaria of the Spanish ACB League, before signing with the Spanish Euroleague team Unicaja Malaga in 2009.
After leading Unicaja in scoring last season and being named to the All-ACB team, Freeland leads the team in scoring (14.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.4 rebounds per game) through eight games this season. He was also named ACB player of the month for October, accolades that continue to impress those who have closely followed Freeland’s career overseas.
“He's the best big in Europe,” one scout in Europe told Beyond the Beat.
“He’s equipped not just with his physical build, but his efficiency, skills and disposition. He does everything you want in a big over here. Plus, he can play both the 4 and 5, but will be a solid 5 in the NBA.”
There is another factor to consider with Freeland -- he’s the one big man Portland needs but just can’t seem to get their hands on.
While members of the Blazers scouting team were on hand in Lithuania at EuroBasket to monitor Freeland’s growth as he represented Great Britain (who was subsequently bounced from the first round) back in September and averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, it’s become clear the whole “Freeland finally arrives to play in Portland” headline is going to either take more patience or not come to fruition at all.
Time and again Freeland has said he doesn’t want to make the jump to the league just to sit the bench and limit his contributions to a team. Instead, the 24-year-old Freeland is set on finishing out his 5-year contract with Unicaja and become a free-agent next summer where he will then test the NBA waters.
That’s when Portland plans to jump in the deep end.
“Next summer we’ll take a really hard look at bringing him over,” then-Blazers interim general manager Chad Buchanan told The Oregonian earlier in the year.
“He’ll be 25 and starting to enter the prime of career and will have another high-level European season under his belt. Next summer, we’ll have serious discussions about it.”
Freeland's buyout clause is 1.5 million euros, or around $2 million USD.
Maybe then picturing Freeland in a supporting role behind LaMarcus Aldridge, while also getting major minutes at center will be easier to stomach. Because while the whole debate this season will be about “can Greg Oden stay healthy” and “how much does Marcus Camby really have left”, it’s worth throwing one more point into the conversation.
What kind of player could Joel Freeland be for Portland and playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge?
“He really knows how to get position, he sets up deep, and then scores over both shoulders. And he is deceptively quick when pivoting and spinning off his man. He's a beast,” the scout continued.
“Freeland is quick and mobile for his size over here. Defending those athletic and perimeter-based power forwards might be tough, but that’s why he’d be good fit at center.
"Obviously, the NBA is a different style but he's still a big-time player.”
Portland may be keeping an eye on Freeland from afar, but five years after drafting and stashing him overseas they find themselves in two positions at once while looking for a big man:
Waiting or watching Freeland walk away.
Note: Freeland is also among the nominees for the British Basketball Player of the Year Award, British Basketball announced last week.
The annual award recognizes men's and women's individual achievements throughout the previous international season and includes Luol Deng, Julie Page, Chantelle Handy, and Freeland.
The winner will be announced at the end of the year.