Joel Przybilla: The Day After

As Seth Pollack was so nice to inform you yesterday while I was stuck on an airplane (there were no snakes, by the way), Casey Holdahl at Blazers.com reported that Joel Przybilla has re-ruptured the right patella tendon in his knee. 

Here are the latest updates followed by some analysis of what this means for both Przybilla and the Blazers.

Chris Tomasson on FanHouse writes...

"Now, even our injured players are getting injured,'' lamented Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan before Sunday night's game at Denver.

...

Although McMillan and other Trail Blazers officials didn't want to speculate on when Przybilla might be able to return, the injury could be career threatening for Przybilla, 30, who has one more season left on his contract at $7.4 million. 
...

"It's a tough situation,'' said Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby, who was acquired last month from the Los Angeles Clippers to help fill the void due to the injuries to Oden and Przybilla. "They were saying before (that Przybilla's injury) was going to be pretty tough to come back from. But now, after doing it again, hopefully God is on his side and he can make a miraculous comeback. But it's going to take some time.''

Jason Quick on the Joel Przybilla injury...

The team said there is no timetable for his return. After his original injury and surgery, the team estimated a return at 6-to-8 months. But a source said because this is a re-injury, the timetable for his return can be more difficult to determine. Training camp is seven months away.

The injury all but guarantees Przybilla will exercise his option to return next season to the Blazers at more than $6 million. Przybilla had been deciding whether to opt-out and test his worth on the free agent market.     

Coup from Rip City Project writes...

A doctor I spoke to today speculated that Joel would be out for all of the 2010-11 season, which is the final year of his contract, assuming he picks up his player option this summer

There are really two paths here: Joel Przybilla can either pick up his player option for next season (roughly $7.4 million dollars) this summer or he can retire.  

To this point, Przybilla has given every indication that he wants to continue playing: His statements over the last few months, his upbeat attitude through the initial stages of rehab and his age (He's a young 30 as his odometer is not nearly as high as many big men due to previous injuries and playing backup minutes for many years) all make retirement an extremely unlikely option, especially in the short term. There is always the possibility that the re-rupture is particularly serious and could be, as Tomasson calls it, career-ending. That determination, one would think, would not be made before a full rehabilitation process is completed.  As Przybilla is eligible to pick up his player option early this summer, well before a determination about his potential career ahead of him might be made accurately, picking up the option and then hoping for the best is a no-brainer.  If he decides later that a comeback is no longer a possibility, the money would still be rightfully his.  He would be financially foolish to leave that money on the table. 

Although Przybilla's recovery timeline has been pushed back an as yet undetermined amount of time, from a pure salary cap standpoint, the re-rupture doesn't change things all that much for the Blazers.  Prior to the re-injury, Przybilla was nearly certain to pick up his player option for two reasons. First, his market value next summer would have far exceeded his market value this summer because he was set to be rehabbing all the way through to training camp before the re-injury.  Second, demand on the open market this summer for a center coming off a serious knee injury wasn't likely to exceed the size of his player option for next year anyway. Also important to note: insurance will soon kick in for Przybilla once he misses 41 games due to the injury this season and that will carry over into next season. There will be some solid financial relief once all is said and done; The relief increases as his absence increases.  In short, the Blazers were almost certainly preparing for this summer knowing they would be paying Przybilla next season.  Of course they were also expecting that he would be able to take the court.  That's where things start to get more complicated. 

Once Przybilla picks up his option, his salary will count in full against the Blazers' books next season regardless of whether he plays or not.  Given its large size, that salary will limit the Blazers' flexibility to no small degree.  Next season, the big dollar contract extensions for both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge will kick in while the overall salary cap figure is projected to be in the $53-55 million range.  Put simply, the Blazers will have more than half of their salary cap figure committed to just three players: Brandon Roy ($13.5 million), LaMarcus Aldridge ($10.7 million) and Przybilla ($7.4 million).  That's not a huge deal if Pryzbilla is healthy and able to contribute big minutes in the middle.  But if he's not, that's a $7.4 million anchor.  

It is an anchor but it's not the end of the world.  Somewhat incredibly, the Blazers have 5 potential rotation players -- Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph -- on the books next year for a combined roughly $6 million dollars.  That's pretty crazy to think about, huh?  I think it's fair to say that Przybilla's injury makes trading any one of those players -- who all provide good value and a solid return on their current contracts -- that much more difficult and unlikely. 

Although I hate to speculate this far ahead, it's likely that Przybilla will take his place in a developing line of Caucasian trade deadline chips, following in the hobbling footsteps of Raef LaFrentz (last season) and Matt Harpring (this season).  Przybilla's salary will possess all the desired characteristics for a team looking to dump salary and/or save money: it will be quite large, it will expire at the end of the season, and it will be covered in large part by insurance.  One possibility that jumps off the trade machine would be packaging an increasingly disposable Martell Webster with Joel Przybilla's Expiring Contract to get to roughly $12 million, enough to bring back either a quality center or an adequate backup and a bad contract that a team is looking to dump.   

There are no real winners when it comes to serious knee injuries but if there's an obvious winner here it's Marcus Camby.  Portland's desire to retain him just increased considerably whether they will publicly admit that or not.  The question, as always, will be price.  Interest from the Clippers, the Knicks and the Nuggets has already been reported. In recent years, the Blazers haven't often found themselves in bidding wars and that is not an accident whatsoever.  One of the easiest ways to make a cap-crippling mistake is to enter a bidding war, especially a bidding war over a player that is past his prime.  Indeed, the Blazers lost the one true bidding war they did enter, over Hedo Turkoglu, and that has worked out better than if they had won it.  There's no question they learned from that experience.

The deciding factor for Camby this summer could very likely be the same factor that brought Andre Miller to Portland: Which team is willing to give him multiple guaranteed years?  For a player Camby's age, despite his continued ability to significantly impact games, it would surprise me if Portland was willing to offer him two years guaranteed at a big number. I say this mainly because the team is really looking for a third big man (behind Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge) rather than a starter.  Committing big dollars to Camby is not impossible but I think it's reasonable to assume that the Blazers will have other, more affordable options on the table, whether that be potential trade targets, a center they find in the draft or Joel Freeland.  If Camby is simply looking for a pay day, and who could blame him, history dictates that more likely than not it will come from someone other than Portland. 

Life just got substantially more complicated both for Przybilla and Blazers management. For Przybilla, you feel for a man who must start an arduous rehabilitation process all over again.  For the Blazers, you feel for their uncertainty as they can no longer simply bide time until an expected return.  But these are the breaks of the game.  As Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey said so succinctly to a group of 1,000 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference attendees eager to hear how they might break into the professional sports industry, "If you can predict injuries, a job is waiting." 

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

PS The Full Court Press is coming soon.

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