Millsap and What Comes Next

With the semi-predictable news that the dalliance between Paul Millsap and the Portland Trail Blazers is coming to an end (once again freeing Mike Barrett to call him "Ronnie" twice a game, which would have been one of the sad casualties of Utah declining to match Portland's offer) the natural question becomes, "What now?"

We know we're not getting Millsap.  He would have been an interesting addition at that price but I have a gut feeling that the Blazers knew they weren't getting him the moment they signed the offer.  No matter how you shuffle the numbers, four years at $8 million per wasn't going to be enough to scare Utah away.  Portland went right up to the level they thought would be a long-shot bargain but didn't go so far as to inconvenience themselves to get Millsap.  Losing him, especially to a division rival, would have been more than an inconvenience for Utah.

When I posted the Kevin Pritchard image piece the other day I mentioned that there had been some communication gaffes along the way, or at least some moments that seemed...unpolished.  A couple of people wrote asking for examples.  The Millsap discussions provided one. 

The Utah Jazz sent out an e-mail today (thanks to David for the tip) with the following text:

The Utah Jazz will match Portland's offer to forward Paul Millsap.  Millsap, a restricted free agent, was offered a 4-year, $32 million deal last week. Portland attempted to make the deal "toxic" by offering $10.3 million due upfront. The Jazz has seven days to pay Millsap the upfront money.

Notice the word "toxic" in quotes there.  What does the surrounding sentence convey?  The Blazers were trying to be jerks.  They failed at that, even.  This is not attractive.  That adjective came originally from a Jason Quick story, attributed to an unnamed source.  I won't argue that the descriptor is inaccurate.  I won't argue that Jason shouldn't have printed it.  I will argue that this is not the image you want circulating about your front office.  Things like this contribute to the growing swirl of anti-Portland chatter we're hearing (or at least hearing implied in the case of opposing front offices).  The issue could have been avoided by a simple change in wording.  "Front-loaded" doesn't look bad.  "Difficult to match" also gets the point across.  Neither of these has connotations of unfairness or malice the way "toxic" does.  Perception often gets taken as reality.  Keeping the perception professional and high-road is usually the best way to go when talking with the media, even when the discussion seems informal.  That's what you usually hear from NBA front offices.  Not as much from Portland.

Now that the toxicity has come to naught, many folks are jumping on the Lamar Odom train.  I feel pretty comfortable saying whatever the future holds for Portland, it doesn't include Odom.

Lamar could add a couple of nice things to the Blazer lineup.  He's got height, experience, scoring ability, and rebounding.  He's also not afraid to get tough or carry a chip on his shoulder.  But those attributes are more than counterbalanced by his age, position, contract status, and desires. 

Odom isn't really a swing-forward anymore.  He plays well at power forward but gets outhustled at small forward.  He's not a great perimeter defender.  He's not a great three-point shooter.  He's going to be a four for the rest of his career.  The Blazers would be acquiring him to play a position where there aren't enough minutes to keep him remotely happy.  Plus he's inking a brand-new contract and he wants five years. 

Read my lips, folks.  The Blazers cannot sign a 30-year old forward to a five-year deal.  If they want a forward that long he needs to be in his 20's.  If he's older and they want him he needs to be heading into the last couple years of his contract.  The Blazers aren't making a last grab at the brass ring.  They can't just sign a guy to wring out the next couple of years from him, paying the piper after knowing they're going to be rebuilding anyway.  Portland's superstars aren't going to be in their dotage in three years.  Their superstars are going to be in their prime in three years.  That'll be time for all hands on deck, not all hands playing Mah-Jongg while popping ginseng and Geritol.  If you want a forward now you either need a guy who can lead the youngsters for the next couple years and then ride off into the sunset or a guy who is going to displace those youngsters and give you five great years.

In short, Odom is a dubious fit now, a expensive paperweight later, and likely an unhappy camper the whole time.  Not exactly an enticing prospect.

So what are the Blazers going to do now?  I don't believe they're going to take a shot at a fourth-choice free agent.  If they had a secondary acquisition in mind (Hinrich, Miller, et al.) you might see that go through now.  I don't think you'll see another huge offer made.  It feels like the trade talk is teetering on the edge of a cliff as well.  The Blazers aren't going to make a so-so deal if a good one isn't there.  It feels like the money move is simply to wait, head into the first couple months of the season, and then look at see which teams are struggling.  You might find a faux-contender willing to make a deal when it becomes apparent that the season-long marathon is becoming a treadmill for them.

When you think about it there are at least six potential hot spots for making deals or acquiring new players.  The first is draft week.  The second is the beginning of the free agent period.  The third is the time right after the moratorium lifts when the free agent dust has settled and teams are looking to improve by other means.  The fourth is right around training camp.  The fifth is a couple months into the season.  The sixth is the trade deadline.  The Blazers have only passed half of those hurdles.  We and they both thought there'd be bigger news by this point but that doesn't mean we're in desperation mode yet.   All that's happened is that the first six weeks of the process--comprising three of those six points--have yielded no acceptable options.  The remaining seven months before February might tell a different story.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com

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