Acquiring Players: What It Could Look Like

 

Yesterday we went into the depths of Portland's salary cap situation.  Today we're going to take a look at how that cap space and Portland's other assets could conceivably be used in acquiring players.  There are three purposes to this:

1.  Seeing the cap stuff in action helps cement it.

2.  You'll get a better sense of the value of "flexibility", which has been a byword of this management team since the get-go.  They've built the roster for the last couple years specifically to put themselves in this situation.  Some of the subtleties of their moves will come out herein.

3.  When people talk about moves they usually talk in the abstract.  "We should trade X for Y."  It's interesting to see the machinations that go into actual deals, if nothing else to highlight that it's not always as simple as X for Y.  This should shed a light on how realistic (or not) some of our expectations and proposals are.

Obviously it'd be impossible to detail every conceivable player the Blazers could acquire so we're going to limit ourselves (mostly) to some oft-mentioned point guards.  The point guard crop is large and varied enough to show most of the ways we could get people.

Assumptions Regarding the Cap

To standardize this I'm going to make a few basic assumptions:

--The 2009-10 cap is going to come in as projected, $57.3 million.

--The Blazers are going to retain both Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw if they're not traded before July.

--The Blazers will not make a qualifying offer to Channing Frye.

--The Blazers will release any other free agents (LaFrentz, Randolph, Ruffin) who have holds on their cap as necessary.

--The Blazers will be willing to renounce any or all of their exceptions (mid-level, bi-annual, Ruffin traded player) as necessary.

--The Blazers will retain the 24th pick unless traded in the draft.

--Unless I specify that a trade will happen before the draft all trades will use next season's figures.

These assumptions give the Blazers a 2009-10 cap total of $51.5 million, leaving $5.8 million in cap space available with which to broker deals.

Our Players Under Contract

Here is a list of our players under contract for 2009-10 given the assumptions listed above.

Darius Miles

$9.00 million

Joel Przybilla

$6.86 million

LaMarcus Aldridge

$5.84 million

Greg Oden

$5.36 million

Martell Webster

$4.32 million

Steve Blake

$4.00 million

Brandon Roy

$3.91 million

Travis Outlaw

$3.60 million

Jerryd Bayless

$2.14 million

Sergio Rodriguez

$1.58 million

Rudy Fernandez

$1.17 million

Nicolas Batum

$1.12 million

#24 Pick

$0.93 million

The Blazers also have cap holds for Petteri Koponen and Joel Freeland worth around $820,000 each.

Candidate #1:  Kirk Hinrich

2009-10 Contract Value:  $9.5 million

Remaining Years:  '10-'11 $9 million, '11-'12 $8 million

The Bulls and Hinrich are supposedly parting ways this summer no matter what.  Chicago reportedly would like to cut salary, which makes the Blazers a semi-attractive trading partner.

Portland could absorb $5.8 million of Hinrich's contract, leaving at least $3.7 million in salary to be traded to Chicago.  The dividing line actually lies just south of Travis Outlaw, as teams are allowed to go up to $100,000 over the cap in order to make a deal happen and Outlaw's salary is exactly $100,000 short of being adequate.

This kind of deal is completely straightforward.  The Blazers simply offer Outlaw or Blake to the Bulls for Hinrich.  In either case the Bulls get a modest expiring contract on a serviceable player plus they get instant cap relief.

Candidate #1a:  Kirk Hinrich alternate

Let's say the Bulls were being obstinate, however.  They don't want anything back for Hinrich.  They aren't interested in our players.  They just want his salary gone, gone, gone.  Is there a way to make that happen?'

Yes...but the timetable changes.

As our enormously wonderful friend Storyteller pointed out in the comment thread of yesterday's cap post...and yesterday's podcast post...and yesterday's Blazer Dancer post...and in the printed menu of the seafood restaurant at which my wife and I dined last night...and scribbled in the margin of my heirloom family Bible...and tattooed on my forehead with a  radioactive, hypodermic sky-blue Sharpie...both Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw are going into non-guaranteed contract seasons next year.  That means the team that owns their contract can do nothing and those two contracts renew at the salaries printed above or the team can renounce them and wriggle out of the contract obligation entirely.

What difference does that make?  Normally players entering an option year on their contract cannot be traded until that option is exercised.  That's not the situation here.  Technically Outlaw and Blake are not in the final year of their contract.  That final year is still there, though not guaranteed.  That means that both Outlaw and Blake can be traded at any time before July.  The team that takes them can then choose whether to pay them next season or simply cut them loose.

In a case like this, where a team simply wants a complete salary dump, those contracts become powerful bargaining chips.  The catch is you're using this year's salaries to make the deal, not the 2009-10 salaries listed above.  Kirk Hinrich is making a flat $10 million this season.  The combined salaries of Outlaw and Blake this year total $8.25 million.  Since both teams are currently over the cap, the salaries must match within 25% plus $100,000.  This trade qualifies.  Done deal.  If Portland were willing to give up Blake and Outlaw to get him they could have Kirk Hinrich tomorrow.  Chicago could then renounce both players and be completely free of Hinrich's salary obligation.  The Blazers, in turn, would add Hinrich's $9.5 million to their 2009-10 cap but subtract Blake and Outlaw at $7.6 million combined, for a net loss of $1.9 million in cap space, leaving them around $3.9 million yet to play with.

See more after the jump!

Candidate 1b:  Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng

Now let's say Portland got greedy and decided it wanted not only a new starting point guard, but a starting small forward as well.  And let's pretend Chicago was amenable to listening to offers for a Hinrich-Deng package.  How would that look?

First of all, the scenario outlined just above wouldn't work, as Deng is a Base Year Player this season.  We won't get into all that.  We'll just say it pretty much nixes any trades involving him until the new season salary structure takes effect.

Hinrich is making $9.5 million next year.  Deng will be pulling $10.4 million.  That totals $19.9 million in salary.

The Blazers are still $5.8 million under the cap in this scenario, which brings the gap down to $14.1 million.  And now we begin to see the issue with some of these huge-money players people bandy about.  The Blazers can come up with $14 million in salary, but it's going to hurt.  The Raef LaFrentz contract is gone.  There's some possibility of signing him to a (mostly-phony) sign-and-trade contract and dealing that to another team but that doesn't happen too often.  Chicago would really have to desire a complete salary dump to make that work.

Failing that...well...you start with the usual suspects, Outlaw and Blake.  That's $7.6 million, leaving $6.5 million to go.  The Bulls are probably going to covet talent for those two one-time cornerstone players, so it's not unreasonable that they'd want Rudy as the centerpiece.  Let's say for the sake of argument that the Blazers valued Deng enough to do that.  That's...what?!?  Rudy makes only $1.2 million???  This is starting to feel like finding out you don't have enough cash after the checker has already rung up your groceries.  You just have to keep taking more and more players off.  We still need $5.3 million in salary.  Miles' contract is not tradeable.  Roy, Aldridge, and Oden aren't going anywhere in this deal.  So you're stuck having to give up Joel Przybilla or Martell Webster and Sergio Rodriguez.  Martell's contract runs for a while.  Joel's is shorter but more expensive.  They'd probably prefer Joel, but this deal is really getting unreasonable.  The Blazers are giving up Blake, Outlaw, Rudy, and Joel to get two players, albeit starters.  The Bulls are kind of getting a messy roster, albeit filling some holes and grabbing some young talent.  This trade is looking more unlikely by the minute.

This example illustrates that flexibility has its limits.  One of the assets the Blazers are missing is a huge, tradeable contract.  Portland's players come so cheap that they don't have the ballast to take on big deals, either individually or in combination.

Candidate 2:  Ramon Sessions

2009-10 Contract Value:  Unkown--Restricted Free Agent

 

Sessions is Milwaukee's former second-round pick, now becoming a free agent.  He wants money that the Bucks are unlikely to give.  Any team with the resources to do so can make him an offer.  However Sessions as a former second-round pick coming off of his second year Sessions lives under the strictures of the Gilbert Arenas provision.  We explained this in the comments yesterday, so if you read it there you can skip the next couple paragraphs.  For those who didn't, a quick explanation.

You may recall that in 2003 the Golden State Warriors were incredibly high on Gilbert Arenas, another former second-round pick.  But because he had been a second-rounder he did not have the guaranteed salary or collective bargaining protection of a first-round pick.  The rules stated that the Warriors could only offer him whatever cap space they had.  The Wizards had more cap space and made him an offer bigger than Golden State could possibly match.  So Arenas flew the coop and the Warriors lost their franchise player.

The league didn't like this so they instituted the Gilbert Arenas Provision.  This limits what you can offer a free agent in Arenas' (now Sessions') position.  The easiest way to frame it is to say it affects the structure of the offer, not necessarily the amount.  The first year of the offer can be no more than the league average.  This means by definition the player's current team can always match the offer by using the mid-level exception.  You can't automatically steal that player away anymore.  The second year of the contract can include a modest raise.  The third year and beyond can incorporate big raises.  But when all is said and done, the team making the offer cannot offer a contract whose total amount is bigger than what's possible with their current available cap space.

An example of that last, confusing sentence at work:  If a team has $8 million in cap space available they basically cannot offer a contract that totals an amount greater than $8 million average per year.  So a four-year deal couldn't total more than $32 million.  A five year deal couldn't total more than $40 million.  The first year of the deal would have to be the league average, around $5 million.  The second year would be slightly more, maybe $5.5.  In the four-year, $32 million version the remaining $21.5 million would be divided over the final two years.

Now back to the Sessions situation.  The Blazers could offer Sessions a free-agent contract.  The first season could be no more than $5 million-ish.  The second would have a modest raise.  The remainder of the contract would be limited by Portland's current salary space.  Under the guidelines listed above the Blazers have about $5.8 million in cap room.  That means their offer to Sessions could never average much more than $6 million a year no matter how long it gets.

$6 million per year isn't a bad hunk of change, but it's possible that somebody else would offer more than that.  It's also possible that Milwaukee would decide to match that, figuring Sessions is going to turn out to be worth more than the league-average salary they'd be paying.  In order to make sure they got their man, Portland would likely have to up the deal, bidding out both the Bucks and their competition.

The only way to do this practically would be to renounce some players.  The Blazers could always give up the rights to Joel Freeland and Petteri Koponen.  That would save about $1.6 million in total cap space which could be added to the offer.  Trading out of the draft would save another $900,000.  Providing they could find someone to take their draft pick the Blazers could get about $2.5 million more in cap space without touching a single player on their current active roster.  That would leave $8.3 million in cap space, making possible that four-year, $32 million offer we just talked about.  The Bucks might be willing to match the first year at $5 million but they'd probably run scared from $11 million in the third and fourth seasons.

Failing that, the Blazers could release Steve Blake or Travis Outlaw to clear out $4 million or $3.6 million respectively in cap space.  The trick is, that has to be done in June while Sessions can't be offered a thing until July.  You're taking a risk of losing a player for no return.

This is an example of how a simple free-agent signing isn't so simple.  Portland may have to plan ahead or work some secondary deals to get the job done if this is their goal.

Candidates 3-5:  Andre Miller, Mike Bibby, Jason Kidd

2009-10 Contract Value:  Unknown--Unrestricted Free Agents

These three names come up often as veteran, star point guards who could give the Blazers a boost for the next couple of years.  All are free agents at the end of the year.  As such none can be traded.  They must either be signed outright off of the market or a sign-and-trade must be worked out with their current teams.

Andre Miller made $10.3 million last season, Mike Bibby made $15.0 million, and Jason Kidd made $21.4 million.  Each of those contracts was the ultimate year of a multi-year deal.  At their age it's probably unreasonable for them to expect new multi-year deals at that amount.  However they're not going to be looking for substantially less, particularly Miller who wasn't breaking the bank to begin with.  Any or all of them may take less for a real shot at winning a championship, but that's not yet the job description in Portland.  They'd be mentors, tutors, and starters.  All three of those categories mandate pay.  In order to get any of these players Portland is going to have to cough up money.

$5.8 million per year isn't enough to pay for these guys' kix and jocks.  Even in these economic times the Blazers are going to need a little more room to make an offer to Miller, a lot more to make an offer to Bibby, and an exorbitant amount to make an offer to Kidd.  This involves going through the gymnastics we just talked about with freeing room for Sessions, possibly more.  The Blazers can free up nearly $9 million using simply techniques.  Freeing up $14 million would mean a massive roster dump (Blake, Outlaw, first round pick, Freeland, Koponen).  Much more than that just isn't possible.  And all of these renouncements would come without any guarantee of getting the player we wanted in return.  The expensive free agent market is pretty much out of Portland's reach without substantial risk.

A sign-and-trade would take more of the pressure off, as you'd not have to risk renouncing players.  You could keep them until the sign-and-trade was executed.  However you'd need the cooperation of the player and his current team.  Depending on how expensive the contract was, the Blazers could run into some of the same problems detailed in the Hinrich+Deng situation above.  But getting between $10-12 million together for a sign-and-trade when almost $6 million was cap space already could be workable, depending on the needs of  the other team.

Candidate #6:  Stephen Curry

2009-10 Contract Status:  Unknown--Draft Pick

I am using Curry as an example of moving up in the draft, not as a suggestion of who to move up for.  In order to get him or any highly-regarded point guard the Blazers will have to make a substantial leap in the draft order.  The main picks debated so far are Washington at #5 and Minnesota at #6.   Either team would be attracted by a team willing to take on one of their bad contracts along with the pick.

The sore-thumb contract in Minnesota is Brian Cardinal at $6.3 million per year.  That's are this year's salary, assuming the trade would happen just before or during the draft.  Here again Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw both have renounceable contracts, giving the ‘Wolves the ability to dump most of Cardinal's salary.  However the only workable combination Outlaw adds Jerryd Bayless to the package.  That might well make Minnesota blink but it could also make Portland balk.  A Blake package could include Bayless or Rodriguez, but either of those options leaves the Blazers short at the point.

Etan Thomas is the prominent name in Washington.  Because of his player option this year he can only be dealt after July, which means the draft pick he was bundled with would come with a salary attached.  Portland would have to come up with a little over $11 million in salary and cap space to make the deal work.  This could be done by any of the means listed above.  Washington would only get the $5.8 million discount in this case, however, since Thomas' contract would expire after 2009-10 anyway.  Any team that had more cap space could, by definition, make a better offer to get this pick.

Candidate #7:  Juan Dixon

2009-10 Contract Status:  Unknown--Unrestricted Free Agent

 

Like Curry, Dixon is representative of a type of player, in this case the inexpensive free agent, rather than a firm suggestion of a specific player.  Our old friend Juan is available on the open market and he played last season for under $1 million.  He's a back-up, a stopgap, a player that Jerryd Bayless could easily beat out.  But he knows how to play and he's cheap.  Besides that, he represents a different kind of option than everyone else listed so far.

If you simply sign him under the salary cap you subtract his $800,000-$1,000,000 from the cap space total and move on, spending the rest on something else.  All of the other possibilities are still open.  It's mostly no harm, no foul.

However the Blazers are in the gray zone where they have enough exceptions to more than cover their available cap space.  They have the mid-level exception of somewhat more than $5 million.  They have a bi-annual exception around $1 million.  They have the Ruffin trade exception of $3 million or so.  That's $9 million in possible exceptions versus only $5.8 million in available cap space in our scenario.  As long as the Blazers don't go more than $9-ish million under the cap they are free to use those exceptions instead of the cap space.

So there you have it:  eight sample players, at least a half dozen options to acquire them with multiple dozens of permutations possible under each option.  And that's just with a limited number of players!  Imagine the whole field of the NBA available.  Flexibility has its advantages but simplicity is not among them.  It will be interesting to read the tea leaves, trying to guess whether the Blazers will zig or zag this summer.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

 

 

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