Hickson -- who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer -- has done an admirable job playing out of position as the starting center this season, averaging 12.9 points and 10.9 rebounds. However, the Blazers' interior defense is the worst in the NBA, and general manager Neil Olshey wants to find a real center who can change that:
"For us to make a jump next season, JJ can't be our starting center,'' Olshey said, referencing the Blazers' 47.4 points allowed in the paint per game, an NBA high. "I'm not saying he can't be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.''
Thanks to his strong numbers, Hickson will be looking for a starting job at power forward and a raise from the $4 million he made in Portland this year. Olshey would like to keep Hickson on the roster, but as noted, it just does not seem fiscally responsible to do so. The Blazers will have nearly $12 million in cap space this summer, but most of that will be used to lure a more defensive-minded center to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge.
Both Hickson and his agent, Andy Miller, understand the Blazers' situation and see the writing on the wall. But what remains to be seen is what the big man will command on the free agent market. If no other team steps up with a lucrative contract offer, there's still the outside chance that Hickson could return to Portland. The Blazers do have Hickson's Bird Rights, so they can go over the cap to re-sign him if they so choose. But at this point, that scenario is looking doubtful.