I've noticed a lot of fan posts recently that speculate Portland's future. Whether it's a discussion about "blowing up the team," a trade drawer, or what to do about our point guard position, all of these posts illustrate an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with this current team.
I don't think I'm alone when I say that the current squad likely won't be going deep into the playoffs, and is even less likely to ever compete for a championship. We all have our hopes of the team we'd like to see put together, whether this be through trade or free agency. But what's the nitty-gritty? Let's examine the details of potential player movement where the rubber meets the road. This particular discussion will focus on free agent acquisitions.
Someone might look at the Portland's current contract situation with some of its players and figure this is a good thing. Lots of high, expiring contracts during an offseason with some real free agent talent available. Call me a pessimist, but this situation may prove pretty challenging and it revolves around a lot more than just our point guard situation, a popular topic.
For the purposes of this topic, lets assume that the Blazers make no trades. Once the current contracts expire (Camby, Felton, Oden, Batum, Smith, Johnson&Johnson) and if Wallace opts out of his option, the Blazers should be left with roughly $28 to 30 million in cap space. That's a nice chunk of change, but you then have to go out and sign a starting center, point guard, and small forward. Not to mention, you have to fill your lower bench positions. Let's take a look at each of these needs.
Looking at the available free agents out there, the most likely candidates I see to fill this spot are Felton, Hinrich, Williams, or Nash mostly because they're unrestricted and thus easier to sign. Foye, Lin, and Dragic are also unrestricted however these are candidates less likely to fill a starting spot as they have yet to prove themselves in this role (although Lin is quickly changing that situation). Likely restricted free agent options include Brooks, Augustin, Hill, and Bayless.
From the above pool, you're likely doing to spend $6-8 million on Felton or Hinrich. Felton sure isn't looking like a guy you'd pay more than what you're paying him now, and Hinrich really is in no position to negotiate for anything too much higher than the mid-level exception. You'd be spending significantly more on Williams (max contract - likely $16-17 million) and he's not likely to come to Portland anyway. Nash may be drawn here, but how much do the Blazers want to pay a guy who may only have 1 or 2 good years left? He makes $11 million now. Smart money says, you take Nash if you can get him for less than $10 million per, and no more than 2 years.
The restricted guys are much harder to figure. Phoenix may be willing to match a fairly substantial offer sheet for Brooks, especially if Nash leaves. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a team had to spend upwards of $8-10 million to lure him away. Augustin, Hill, and Bayless could very well be had for not too much more than the mid-level exception ($5 million) depending on how their teams value them. For instance, if the Bayless/Calderon backcourt doesn't workout and the Raptors can't unload Jose, they may be reluctant to match an offer sheet. I can't see that Charlotte wants to spend too much to keep Augustin as they drafted his replacement last year. Similarly with Hill, if the Pacers want to make a big run at Gordon, Hill will be easy free agent fodder. All of these guys are gambles, but all have skills that Portland would favor in a point guard, and all have proven they're capable of holding down the starting position, albeit less so with Hill.
Interestingly, I think this is the Blazers' largest bugaboo. Some were upset that Portland didn't extend Batum. But think for a second. Why didn't this happen? I contend that Batum wasn't given a legit extension offer ($6-8 million) because the Blazers don't want to get stuck with a sizable contract for both Batum and Wallace for the '12 to '13 season. Remember how Wallace was rumored to be traded before the season began? Where there's smoke, there's fire, and the fire here burning for Portland is the contract situation with Wallace. With him having the option to extend at the end of the season, it becomes very difficult for Portland to plan their budget accordingly around extending guys like Batum. It would be an effective budget disaster to be paying Wallace $10 million to start, and Batum $8 million to back him up. Ergo, no trading of Wallace? No extending of Batum.
That being said, the chips have fallen. Batum and Wallace are probably the frontrunners in this free agent class. Chase Budinger is a very good shooter and maybe someone in the Wally Szczerbiak mold (think of Luke Babbitt if he actually played to his potential), and he's also unrestricted. Wilson Chandler (restricted) would be another guy to look at coming out of China. The options aren't super exciting after that.
If Wallace does take his option at $10.5 million, then say adios to Batum. I don't see how Portland would match an offer sheet. On the other hand, if Wallace opts out, then I think it's very likely Portland will sign whatever offer sheet is presented, of which I expect a team will try to sign Batum to the $7-9 million range. With a little luck, maybe less. If Wallace leaves and Portland doesn't mach an offer sheet for Nic, then Chandler is your best bet as a legit starter. Budinger is nice, but he's definitely less proven. Chandler would likely garner a contract similar to that of Batum.
Hard to say what management is thinking about Oden. They are privy to details regarding his health that we as fans are not. For the purpose of this discussion though, I'm going to assume Oden will not play a game wearing a Blazer uniform again (again, I'm a glass half-empty kind of guy). Good news is, there's some great talent available in the free agent pool. Beyond Howard (no chance of signing with Portaland), you've got Kaman, Hawes, Camby, Mohammed, Gray, and Asik who are all unrestricted. A list made up of former all-stars, solid veterans, and highly talented youth. I think there's little question that, although some of these options will clearly produce more, all are capable of holding down the starting spot. Kaman and Hawes will likely get the largest contracts, with both likely getting double-digit million figures. Mohammed, Gray, and Asik can be had for much less (probably around the mid-level exception), but are not likely to be as effective. Camby could probably be signed for fairly cheap, but his durability is certainly suspect.
The restricted bunch also has some good talent. This gang is headed by Hibbert (current all-star) but also features Brook Lopez and JaVale McGee. Pulling Hibbert out of Indiana will prove a near-impossible effort by a team, and will likely require a high offer sheet being signed ($12-$13 million range) in addition to Indiana clearly wanting to put money elsewhere. McGee would be a good guy to have, but again, tough to pull away from Washington. I'd be surprised if he ended up taking less than $10 million. Same with Lopez, except a team just might be able to sneak in a lower offer, particularly if New Jersey has their sights set on signing both Howard and Williams. The complicating issue here is that Lopez is very likely to be traded in such an effort to acquire Howard.
Not gonna get too much in the weeds here. I'd expect Portland would be able to sign a variety of guys, including ones they already have, to league minimums. You also have the salary exceptions with your draft picks. In the end, this shouldn't hold up any major efforts to acquire any of the above.
Alright, so there you have it. Roughly $28 to 30 million to sign a combination of the above. Personally, what I'd like to see happen is for Wallace to opt out, and for the Blazers to sign Batum to an $8 million deal. That would leave enough, potentially to go after a guy like Hibbert, Hawes, McGee, or Kaman at center (I'm not a huge fan of Lopez) and a guy like Hinrich or Augustin at point. You could also sign Felton back, given he may be easy to negotiate down to a lower contract as he's probably tired of moving, has said he wants to stay in Portland, and would have little leverage to negotiate for a larger contract.
Let me know what you think! I know that the team will change with a combination of trades and free agents, but just examine the free agency option for now. If the Blazers made no trades, how would you want them to proceed with free agent signings?