I love our Portland Trailblazers. I love the players we have on our team. Each and every one of them. I want them to succeed. And, like every bling homer, I believe that this team has a chance to compete in the clogged West.
However, reality is that this team, as constructed, is right in the middle of that clog. Right in the middle of that second tier. And perhaps there are many who would call that optimistic. But that’s who I am. Who knows, maybe the Blazers pull it all together in the playoffs, produce a very successful team, and work to resign as many players from this squad as possible. I would not complain about that.
But when this offseason comes, how is the Blazers’ flexibility?
Gerald Wallace is expected to opt out of his contract to get more money. As is Jamal Crawford. But neither are guaranteed to do so.
Now, there are cap holds for free agents, unsigned 1st round draft picks, unused roster spots.
According to Storyteller, on July 1st, 2012, we will have $43,179,781 tied up in salary and cap holds. Plus around $1.5 million (+/-) for our 1st rounder. The salary cap last season was $58,044,000. I don’t expect that number to move much for the 2012 season, given the shortened season. That means without signing Batum, Oden, any kind of PG or Center, or have more than 9 players on the roster, we will be about $14 million under the cap.
Not bad, but there are too many holes to fill. We can resign our own guys. If Camby is up for another year. If Felton improves in the second half of the season. If Batum isn’t too cheezed about the non-extension. If Oden comes back at all. If Wallace and Crawford don’t want too much more money.
With all of that, it is possible to bring back the team we have this year. In order to make another run in the middle of the pack. If that happens, fine. I’ll be there cheering. But for the team, championships are the goal, not just another year of fielding the same guys.
There is another approach. And it is a lot riskier. But the reward is instant championship contention.
Wallace and Crawford are both expected to opt out. Batum and all of our free agents and unsigned draft picks can be renounced. 1st round draft picks, especially in 2012 can be traded into next year fairly easily. And we can play the free agent game at the big stakes table.
Is that even possible? Both are likely to get max contracts. Howard is set to earn $18,905,899 in 2012 under a max contract free agent signing. Williams $17,095,996. We would need to clear $36,001,885 in cap space to sign both. If the salary cap remains static, we need to get our salaries and cap holds down to $22,042,115. Letting everyone walk and dumping our first rounder gets us down to $28,926,401. Only $6,884,286 to go.
Storyteller has these salaries listed:
We also have a cap hold at minimum salary for each roster spot under 13. Minimum salary in 2011-2012 was $473,604. At the signing of a player, the cap hold disappears. So if we assume we’re going to sign Howard and Williams, that puts us at 8 players, leaving five minimum cap holds totaling $2,368,020. So those are the numbers that we need to cut $6,884,286 from.
And the obvious choice is Matthews. In fact, he’s the only choice. Matthews and one other player need to be traded for an expiring contract, or to a team willing to give up cap space for them. It’s a shame to give him up. He’s exactly the player we need in a D. Will-LMA-Howard big three. But his salary is keeping that from being possible. Perhaps the Nash rumors or the Kaman contract might be worth the short term loss in talent. Perhaps there is another offer available. But if Portland ends up trading Matthews for nothing, then they’ve figured this out too.
But is it all really worth the risk? Players like Matthews aren’t exactly rare, but they don’t grow on trees either. Is it really worth the chance to lose Matthews for nothing? Because there are a lot of teams that have been looking forward to the summer of 2012. What’s stopping Howard and D. Will from going elsewhere?
Because Portland is the only team that can offer to give Howard and Williams a big three with which to contend against the likes of Miami. Cleveland can clear enough space to sign both, but their "star" is in his rookie year and plays the same position is D. Will. New Jersey could sign both, but it would be the big two and Brook Lopez. Perhaps Brooklyn and marketing are a bigger draw than championship contention? Boston could make a run at both, provided they give Rondo away for nothing while renouncing Bird rights to Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Houston and Indiana can clear enough room to sign one of the two. So could New Orleans, if they renounced Eric Gordon. Philadelphia could be in play if Elton Brand exercises his player option, which I would think is unlikely. Washington might be able to make enough room as well. Nobody else really has a shot.
So in short, no other team can put together three All-NBA players onto the same team like Portland can, except maybe Boston, if they’re willing to give up that much (and they might).
But what happens if we go through all this, and they sign elsewhere? The only real asset we would have given up is Matthews. Without the signings, we would retain all our Bird rights, and Batum’s RFA status. We could still go after Eric Gordon to replace Matthews. We could still improve the team from where it is today.
But the risk involved in trying for a big three like this is well worth the reward in my opinion. The chance for Howard and D. Will to get paid and play for championships, I think will be a better pull than Brooklyn’s lights. Plus, after signing we would retain the $2.5 million Room Exception to sign an extra player with. And we can sign as many Minimum Contracts as necessary to fill the roster, like Craig Smith. And I think some vets would be willing to sign up for a chance at a ring.