By now you will have heard the news that NBA players and owners have reached a tentative agreement on a new CBA. This is news to be thankful for, even sight unseen. Providing hawks on either side of the table don't scuttle the process in its final minutes we will have a season this year, apparently starting on Christmas.
Once the flicker of hope sprouts into a sustainable flame, we need to figure out what we're doing around this new fire. As a start, let's look at some of the key issues that will determine the Blazers' future:
1. What does the new salary structure look like? How hard is the cap, how low and punitive luxury tax, and how permissive are the mechanisms allowing teams to retain their current players?
It's hard to think of too many teams more affected by these issues. The Blazers have Greg Oden, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, and Raymond Felton to worry about, and that's assuming Marcus Camby will be out of the picture. No matter how you mix and match players, 3/5 of Portland's starting lineup will be up for contract decisions within a year, perhaps two if Wallace decides the last year of his current deal is good. Every factor just listed will inform Portland's decisions in re-signing these critical players. It's a great lineup to take a gamble on, a poor one to invest your life savings in. How much of the owner's resources will get tied up trying to retain these players?
2. Will there be an amnesty clause and if so what are its terms?
Again Portland stands straight in the crosshairs of a critical issue, this time with franchise stalwart Brandon Roy as the catalyst. Roy has a glaring production-to-compensation-ratio problem. He's also been the heart of the team and letting him go entails not only closing the curtain on an era but risking him starting a new one with another team. They won't have to make the decision immediately but the Blazers will have to ascertain whether Roy is worth keeping at an old max-contract price in this new era of CBA frugality.
3. What are the rules for free agency and over-the-cap signings?
This off-season is going to be short and brutal, dashing through an overpriced buffet instead of enjoying a multi-course meal off of a menu. The Blazers would be lucky to get one significant addition in this mess. Rules and financial constraints may play as heavily into their decision as need when they're forced to make quick and dirty decisions.
4. What are the rules for trades?
If they're going to start over (in a post-Roy era, for example, or even dumping other players to afford keeping Roy) the Blazers have some attractive players to ship out...including nearly everybody mentioned under Point #1. Salary-matching rules are supposed to be relaxed under this new deal. How relaxed? Can Portland buy into the next generation of young, cheap players? Conversely could they swap out some of their currently cheap players for more expensive models to make a move now, perhaps saving costs down the road by using an amnesty clause or not re-signing a veteran or two?
5. What will a 66-game season look like?
The fewer games played the less the law of averages holds sway. That could make the already crazy Western Conference even crazier. You may see some wacky things happen. Sporting relatively young players at most positions the Blazers could benefit from a less-structured (OK, sloppy) progression to the season. The shortened season is going to imbalance the schedule even more than usual, especially if the league is intent on getting in two matchups against opposite-conference opponents and/or preserving matchups between high-profile teams. By the luck of the draw the Blazers could end up playing weaker opponents more often than the teams ahead of them in the conference. On the other hand the Blazers aren't deep and the Blazers aren't healthy. That's a bad combination if the league is stuffing four games into five nights on a regular basis no matter what the opponent lineup and vagaries of chance dictate.
Go ahead and have preliminary discussions and add more key questions below if you care to.