The future, we are all thinking about it right now, what does it hold, who will the Blazers sign as a free agent, who will they trade, if anyone, and what can we expect from this team not just next year, but for the next few years. I have no doubt Kevin Pritchard and his team has a plan, but as fans we only see bits and pieces of it, so we are left to our own speculation. Many have already started to write fan posts about who they think this team should acquire, and the names range from Kobe to no one. But what I am going to propose here, is a fully thought out plan, weeks in the making, that includes all draft picks, free agent signings, extensions for players, renouncing of rights to other players, salary cap implications, and basically everything I feel that KP and his team would have to discuss and address in the near future. Needless to say, if you’re not ready for a read, try again later, if you are then go grab a cup of joe, you could be here awhile.
I. Salary cap for the 2009/2010 season
Before we go any further, we need to assess the team’s salary cap situation, as it will effect every decision that is made from this point. For this post, I am going to use an assumed salary cap for next season, the number I have chosen is $57.3 million. I chose this number because it seems to be the most quoted by NBA writers when talking about projecting next years cap. The luxury tax has always been between $12-13 million more than the salary cap, the actual number is determined by an insane formula that I can’t go into, because I really don’t understand it, but if you would like to read about it, you can at, http://members.cox.net/lmcoon/salarycap.htm#Q16. If we use the higher end of the assumed amount, ($13 million) that would put the luxury tax threshold at $70.3 million.
The Blazers have committed $50,567,802 in payroll next season, (http://hoopshype.com/salaries/portland.htm) This was caused in part because of the Zach Randolph trade which returned Steven Francis, who was bought out, and whose contract of over $17 million comes off the books. Because Steve was bought out, the Blazers have no rights to him, unlike some other players who the team will have to make a decision on, such as Raef LaFrentz. The Blazers have just under $6.8 million in salary cap space this summer and about a total of $20 million before they would go over the luxury tax threshold. To run a profitable team, the Blazers will have to stay below the tax cap, so for this post we will not be going over the threshold like the team did in the past.
II. Player decisions for the season ending in 2009.
The first decisions to make this summer have to do with players, the draft is fast approaching, and the team is bring in players for pre-draft workouts already. But before we get to the draft, a few other decisions need to be made. First of all there are 3 players on the team whose contracts are up; they are Mr. Ruffin, Mr. Randolph, and Mr. LaFrentz. All three players should be let go this offseason, only Shavlik can still play in the NBA, but unfortunately it will not be with the Blazers. Saying goodbye to these players still does not give the team uses of its full cap number, there are still harder decisions to make.
The only restricted free agent Portland has is Channing Frye. The team must do one of 4 things with Frye, sign him to an extension, renounce his rights, sign him to the qualifying offer, or let him sign an offer sheet with another team. The team could also trade him to another team after resigning him if they choose. However I don’t see that happening, what I do believe will happen is the team will either renounce his rights, (2nd option) or let him sign an offer sheet, and if it is really low they might match it, but the most likely outcome would be the Blazers letting him walk for nothing. Because he is a RFA he can’t be used in trades before the draft or even during it. The team would have to wait almost a month after the draft before they could resign him and trade him. These types of trades rarely happen, so for this plan he will be renounced to make his qualifying deal come off the cap and give the Blazers their full $7 million to use this summer.
The next decision to be made is pretty easy, both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge need to be resigned. First is Brandon Roy, he is the face of the franchise, and its unquestioned leader. For those skills and for his obvious skills on the court he will be offered a max contract extension. The exact numbers won’t be known because of how a max deal is determined, but we can get pretty close. The only question I can see is if Roy wants the full 5 year extension or not. Many of us might assume he would, but with a new CBA coming soon he might see an advantage to not signing for the full 5 years. My opinion is that in the next CBA player salaries stand more of a chance of being reduced than increased, so Roy would be well served to sign for the max he can get now, for as long as he can get now. This is why both LBJ and Wade signed only 3 year deals, which end next summer. They will be able to sign long term extensions under the current CBA, so even if player salaries are reduced it won’t affect them until 6 years down the road. It was a very smart, forward thinking plan by them and their agents.
A 5 year max contract for Roy is going to be in the $88 million dollar range. Max contracts for a player with Roy’s experience start at 25% of the salary cap in which the extension takes affect. Roy’s extension would take affect in 2010/2011, but I am using the cap figure we discussed earlier of $57.3 million, because predicting two years out is crazy. It is safe to say that Roy’s extension will top $80 for 5 years easily, and depending on the cap it might even top $90 million.
For LaMarcus, a max deal has been talked about, and his agent will surely ask or even demand one, but I don’t believe Aldridge has earned one. I would be willing to give him a bit more based on the potential the team sees in him, but a max deal would seem to be out of line with his production. Other players of his caliber, (potential all-star, or borderline all-star, even some multi-time all-stars) are not making the max or even close. A few players I would compare Aldridge to are; David West, Josh Smith, Luol Deng, Mo Williams, Josh Howard, Nene, Tayshaun Prince, Baron Davis, Al Jefferson, Hedo Turkoglu, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Antawn Jamison. None of these players are on max deals, and many are more accomplished than LaMarcus. The most common to him is David West in my opinion. West has been an all-star twice, (2008, 2009) and he signed a 5 year $45 million contract in 2007-2008, the same year he made his first all-star game.
The contract I would offer LaMarcus would be 5 years for $50 million, (the max I would offer him this offseason would be 5 years $60 million) and I think he would accept that. If he believes strongly enough to turn it down I would let him play this year out and go into restricted free agency next summer. If he improves his game next year and becomes an all-star then the team could offer a bit more, if he makes a leap like Roy did this year, then a max deal could be considered. If I were KP, I would not be afraid to let LaMarcus go into RFA, because the Blazers can still match anything he is offered even next summer, even with many teams having cap space. I can’t see any team offering him a max deal based on his potential if his production remains what it was this last season.
III. Trades and Free Agents
The first trade I would make would involve the draft, if New York doesn’t get a top 3 pick, I would offer them Sergio and our 1st rounder for their 1st round pick. I think their pick is #8 and should get the Blazers the chance to draft a decent banger for practice. The trade is more about setting Sergio free and freeing up back up point minutes for Bayless. Sergio is not a long term fit with the Blazers, but Bayless could be, and we won’t see that until he is given some responsibility. And for Sergio, New York would be perfect for him, if he can’t succeed there, he would have to go back to Spain. This can only happen if New York has a trade exception, which I think they do, Sergio’s contract is very small, only $ 1,892,035, so I think their exception covers that. As for our salary cap, the cap number for the pick the Blazers will send New York is $933,500, for a total of about $2.8 million off the Blazer cap number. That is about $400K more than the pick we will get from New York, giving the Blazers about $400K more cap space for a total of about $7.1 million.
The second trade I would make would be with the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich. I know some don’t think he is much of an upgrade to Blake, but I think you might be surprised by what Captain Kirk brings to the table. Here is a quick highlight video of him against the pistons during the playoffs 2 years ago, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhU5-VHUCxw&feature=related. As you can see, Kirk is able to penetrate and kick, drive, pull up, and knock down the mid range jumper, and go to the hole strong, all things Blake is unable to do. He is also a very good defender, spot up 3 point shooter, and foul shooter. He has playoff experience, more than any other Blazer I believe, and his contract is not that bad. He is signed through 2011-2012; his salary for next season is $9.5 million, $9 million in 2010-2011, and $8 million in the final year. For a starting point guard that is pretty normal.
To make this trade happen, the Bulls will need at least a back up pg, and someone else who can help them. Lucky for the Blazers they have two perfect players for them, Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw. Steve is obviously a very capable back up point, which should help Rose learn the ropes. Outlaw will help provide the Bulls the scoring off the bench, which they will lose a big chunk of that when Ben Gordon leaves via unrestricted free agency. If you recall Gordon turned down $50 million from the Bulls last summer, and with his performance in the first round this year, I can see one of the few teams with cap space this summer giving him a good offer and the Bulls don’t have any way to stop it. Steve and Travis’s deals add up to between $8.25 and $8.93 million, depending on which salary info site you look at. The Blazers can eat the difference because of their cap space, making the deal work for both teams. This would leave the Blazers about $6.5 million in cap space to sign free agents with.
For a good free agent list, Oregonlive.com has put this up, http://blog.oregonlive.com/behindblazersbeat/2009/05/nba_free_agents_2009_and_2010.html. I believe after these trades, the Blazers will need to look to free agency and the draft to fill their remaining needs. The team is solid at PG, SG, SF and C, only back up PF needs to be upgraded. With a very specific skill set require I went looking, and after looking at all the possibilities, I have come up with the following targeted names; Chris, “Birdman” Anderson, Leon Powe, Joe Smith, Brandon Bass, Walter Hermann, David Lee, and Anderson Varejao. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and I was going to break each one down for you, but this is already too long, so I will just say a few things about each to explain why I did or did not chose to pursue them as free agents.
Birdman – Anderson is an unrestricted free agent and he is only 30 years old. He is a good defender, a great shot blocker, and a good finisher. Outside of the basket area he has no offensive game, is a 63% FT shooter and a good rebounder. With Joel on the second unit already, I feel the Birdman will duplicate what is already there, so I chose to go after someone else.
Brandon Bass – Bass is 6-8, 250lbs, and only 24 years old. He is young, and would fit with this team’s time table, but he won’t bring much playoff experience to the team. He is a good jump shooter and a good rebounder, 80% ft shooter, and gets most of his points driving against bigger power forwards. I don’t see Dallas letting him go, Cuban can spend more to keep him than we can to get him, and at the price we would offer him Cuban would easily match.
Walter Hermann – 29years old, 6-9 225. Hermann is more of a 3 than a 4, a good shooter, but not a great rebounder for a PF. So he is off the list.
David Lee – 26years old, 6-9 240. Lee is a great finisher, great rebounder, 80% ft shooter, but not a good defender. New York is way over the projected cap with $76 million already committed next year, but I can’t see them letting him go, after all their payroll this year was $98 million, so they are not afraid to pay the luxury tax.
Anderson Varejao – 26years old, 6-11, 260lbs. Great defender, rebounder, very good against the pick and roll on defense. Not a good FT shooter, at 58%, draws lots of offensive fouls, one of the best floppers in the game. I feel Anderson would also duplicate what Joel brings to the second unit, and any offense he gets is because of the attention paid to LBJ. Meaning his production would fall off greatly if brought to Portland.
Joe Smith – 33 years old 6-10 250, Is a good jump shooter, doesn’t turn the ball over, and is a good rebounder. Shoots 70% from the line, defends well, and draws lots of charges. Has plenty of experience in the playoffs. Smith would be a good pick up if we couldn’t get…
Leon Powe – 25 years old, 6-8 240lbs. Good offensive game for a back up PF, can shoot out to 15 feet, but makes his money in the paint. Plays under the rim, but like Zach Randolph, has a nose for the ball and tips lots of offensive rebounds in for points. He is an ok defender; he hustles and gives lots of effort, draws charges well, and shoots 70% from the line. Boston does have his bird rights, so they can pay him more than anyone else; however they are already over the luxury tax line next season with $73 million committed. This could be the one area where Channing Frye might be used in a trade, as he would be cheaper than Powe for the Celtics, while still providing some offense off the bench. Stats: http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/players/hollinger?playerId=3023. PER: 17.25, 17mpg, 8ppg, 5rpg, 53%fg, 70%FT.
For the sake of argument lets say Boston doesn’t match Portland’s offer and the Blazers sign Powe to a 4 year deal for $30.4 million. It would cost the Blazers their full cap number of $6.5 million this summer, but it would complete their 10 man rotation. The Mid level for the year is about $5.8 million, so it is more than any other team that is over the cap can offer, and it is enough to make Boston think hard before matching, because it would cost them double, almost $60 million, and Powe is not worth that, not even to the Celtics, who could sign someone like Frye to a one year deal for under $4 million, and be out only $8 million.
**UPDATE** May 5th 2009 “News: Powe underwent successful surgery to repair a micro facture and torn ligaments in his left knee on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.”**
This makes signing Powe very risky. My guess is he will resign with Boston now for cheap, leaving the Blazers to fall back on a player like Joe Smith. I would still contact Powe and try to sign him, (for much less of course) to a 3 or 4 year deal. He won’t be very good next year, but he is young and should heal well, so come 2010-2011 he should be back to 100%. For this fan post I am going to project the Blazers signing both Powe and Joe Smith, Smith for a 1 year deal that is a little above the vet minimum, and Powe for a 3 year deal for a total of $10 million. Both bring post season experience, and the right skill set to be successful as a back up PF on the Blazers.
To fill out the roster, and in light of Powe’s injury, I would convince Joel Freeland to come over and compete for the back up PF spot with Smith, and provide depth at the position. The team would also sign at least 2 of its draft picks from the 2009 draft, a 1st round pick, (#8, from New York) and one of their 2nd round picks. With the number 8 pick, I would choose DeJuan Blair, PF 6-7 265lbs. He is short, but he is a good rebounder, and this team could use all the big men it can get in case Powe doesn’t come back strong, and Smith gets hurt or can’t be convinced to sign with Portland instead of retiring. I would also pick Darren Collison with the team’s first 2nd round pick, #32 over all, and sign him to a 2 year deal, with the 2nd year being unguaranteed. These signings would fill out the roster, and give valuable back up options incase of injury or just for practice. It would also leave the Blazers with 14 players leaving the 15th spot open like KP likes to do.
2009-2010 Roster – salary
1. Brandon Roy - $3,910,816
2. LaMarcus Aldridge – 5,844,826
3. Greg Oden – 5,361,240
4. Kirk Hinrich – 9,500,000
5. Jerryd Bayless – 2,143,080
6. Rudy Fernandez – 1,165,320
7. Martel Webster – 4,344,000
8. Nicolas Batum – 1,118,760
9. Leon Powe – 3,000,000
10. Joel Przybilla – 6,857,725
11. Joel Freeland – 824,200
12. Joe Smith – 1,500,000
13. DeJuan Blair – 2,483,280
14. Darren Collision – 442,114
(Darius Miles) – 9,000,000
Total Team salaries: $57,495,361
So as you can see, this plan keeps the Blazers in a position to add even more players via the mid-level exception or bi-annual exception during the season if the need arises. It also provides flexibility for in season trades should they need to happen, it provides balance to the roster, with 3 point guards, 5 wings, and 6 bigs to bang down low. What this plan also does is set this team up for the future, by buying low on some talent that might prove to be extremely valuable; the Blazers salary cap situation won’t get out of control, leaving them plenty of options in the years to come. To demonstrate that point I have calculated the team’s salary cap number for the 2010-2011 season as follows: $63,618,084, which is before next years draft picks and after Roy’s and LaMarcus’s extensions kick in. With the luxury tax threshold at $70 million or more the Blazers should have plenty of wiggle room next season. After that will be Greg’s extension year, and that is too far ahead to predict, it will all depend on his play. Przybilla’s contract will also run out at that point, with him being 32 at that point he may or may not be resigned, much of that decision depends on Greg’s play as well. But no matter which decision is made, this plan sets up the team to take advantage and not be prevented from making a move because of the salary cap or luxury tax.
IV. Coaching decisions
The first thing to do is re-open talks with Coach Nate about a contract extension. Nate may not be the coach to get this team to a championship, but he is the right coach to bring them to a point where they need to be for that coach to come in. Most teams don’t build like the Blazers so maybe Nate will be the one, but history says at some point he will be replaced. Personally I believe he is the right coach and the coach who will bring a championship to Portland. Because of that I would offer him an extension that would make him a top 5 paid coach, with large bonuses or kickers for any finals appearance and championships won. Nate may decline again this summer, but as a team I feel the Blazers need to let Nate know that they feel he is the man to get the job done here in Portland, and there is no better way to do that then to offer him an extension.
As for Nate’s assistant coaches, I would love to bring in a big man coach to work with not only Greg, but many of the young big men this plan is bringing in. With Coach Luke’s future up in the air, I think Nate would welcome another coach in to work with the guy, but in the end this decision is left up to Nate.
Those who made it though all of my thoughts about how to bring a championship to Portland I thank you. But I also ask you to pick apart this plan, because it is only my first observation about what we should do. There are bound to be inconsistencies, and other problems that come up that I didn’t think about. Do we need another wing or is 5 enough? Do we need to bring in a defensive coach to upgrade a defense that was middle of the pack last year? Is there someone else we should take with the #8 pick? Should we even trade Sergio to New York? Can a starting line up of Hinrich, Roy, Batum, Lma, and Oden bring Portland a championship? I look forward to your thoughts Blazersedge.