Step 1. Renounce
After the season, the Blazers renounce Thabeet, Felton, Hickson, Flynn, CSmith and Przybilla. An accumulative $34 million in salary cap holds that the Blazers cannot afford to have limit their free agent flexibility in the summer. All are no-brainers, with the exception of Hickson who is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Portland. But Hickson's $7 million salary cap hold is too much of a dent into the Blazers cap room and they cannot afford to give a qualifying offer and make Hickson a restricted free agent.
The Blazers do give Batum a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. The Blazers maintain the right to match any offers to keep Batum.
Step 2. Lottery
The NBA holds the 2012 draft lottery on May 30th in New York. The Blazers get lucky as New Jersey does not draw a top three pick which officially sends their first round pick to the Blazers. Even more lucky, both picks draw better than expected based on the two teams' records. The Blazers get the 4th and 8th picks in the 2012 draft.
Step 3. Orlando
From the Orlando Sentinel: "Magic CEO Alex Martins insists that he did not make any specific promises to Dwight Howard to convince him to waive his early-termination option.". If you believe that, then I've got some [insert worthless object here] to sell you.
This just doesn't make any sense. Howard is leaving Orlando, and the Magic had to trade him at the trading deadline in order to get something for him. The fact that they didn't can only mean that there were assurances made that he would be dealt in the offseason, and that Howard would have some say in the matter.
Orlando has always stated they want veteran players for Howard, not draft picks. However, just a few weeks removed from Orlando's second consecutive disappointing first round exit from the playoffs, Portland comes knocking on the door dangling draft picks. The alternative presented by Portland is intriguing, and gets them thinking about the reality of the other options they have entertained - LA and New Jersey centered around Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez. Although both are nice players, both have been plagued with injuries, have or will have significant long-term contracts, and are not going to make the Magic better than they were with Howard. The result is a lower end playoff team at best, with less cap room - caught in the NBA area you don't want to be in - mediocrity.
Portland enters the picture with two lottery picks in the deepest draft in years, young players in their rookie contracts, and other more reasonable or shorter veteran contracts. Portland's option has two flaws.
1. Howard isn't going to sign a long term contract with Portland without a compelling story, and that story includes Deron Williams (See step 5). In order to be able to sign DWilliams, the Blazers need to free up enough cap space to sign DWilliams, which means unloading some contracts that Orlando doesn't want. Portland agrees to add the maximum $3 million cash into the trade to help offset contracts.
2) Portland cannot trade their two lottery picks because they are required to have at least one first round pick in consecutive drafts, and Charlotte owns their 2013 first round pick. To get around this, Orlando agrees to trade Portland its 2013 #1 draft pick in exchange for Portland's 2014 #1 pick. Orlando's pick is protected for several years, so Portland may not see it for a while. Portland's pick is unprotected.
In the end, Orlando is very interested, and gives the Blazers permission to talk with Howard and his agent to see if they can convince the big man to come to Portland.
Step 4. Dwight
Sometime in early June, the Blazer brass - Larry Miller and Chad Buchanon hop on a plane to go meet with Dwight Howard and his agent. Howard is skeptical, but has learned in his young career that is doesn't hurt to have options. After a few pleasantries, the question is asked and Howard lays out his criteria for selecting his team of choice:
1. To play for a championship caliber team - one that will contend for several years.
2. To play in a large market, preferrably New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.
3. To play along side another superstar (or two), as this seems to be the formula to building a championship team.
4. For one of those superstars be a point guard to get him the ball in the right position, and he'd prefer that to be his good friend Deron Williams.
Larry Miller then begins to lay out why Portland is that team. Right off the bat he addresses the one negative - Portland is not a large market. Nothing can be done to fix that, it cannot be overcome. However, the Blazers can fulfill all of Dwight's remaining criteria .... and Larry does what he does best - relationship work. He starts:
1. Portland can create enough cap room to trade for Dwight and sign he and Deron to max contracts.
2. Portland already has the third superstar in Lamarcus Aldridge. The new version of the twin towers would be nearly unstoppable with Howard's inside game, and LMA's outside shot (and inside game). Put that together with one of the best PG's in the league, and you are an immediate championship contender.
3. Unlike Miami after the trio signed, Portland also offers a 4th potential star in Nicolas Batum. A 2/3 slasher who can now hit the outside shot, and can defend.
4. Throw in another young promising player in Elliot Williams, and you've got a starting unit that can rebound, defend, shoot the outside shot, and who can score in the half court and open court.
5. Larry then actually turns Portland's shell of an organization - no GM, no coach, no locker room leadership, into a positive. Lamarcus does not want the outspoken role, so the team is Dwight's and Deron's to lead. They can literally name the coach they want to play for.
6. Portland has the best fans in the NBA and the Blazers are the only ticket in town. Not only will Howard and DWill lead the team, they will own the town. Portland will hand the over the keys to the city.
Larry then lays out why the Blazers are the best option for Dwight and Deron, when compared to other options like New Jersy, Los Angeles or Dallas (see Step 5).
Howard is impressed. As Portland cannot have any conversations with Williams until after July 1st, Howard would have to approve a trade to Portland prior to that, and then trust that Williams will want to come on board (wink wink). The parties part, and the ball is in Howard's court.
Step 5. Deron
At an undisclosed vacation spot, probably a remote caribbean island, Howard and Williams vacation and weigh their options. Lesson learned from the Miami trio, the two realize that there is a potential PR nightmare if their actions are not sincere. They are not going to go on tour and be courted by everyone. They are not going to lead on any teams/cities if they aren't interested. They are going to evaluate their options, and make their choice. They begin to weigh their options:
1.New Jersey. A very attractive option in that they are playing in New York, and they are playing together. But as Larry Miller pointed out, there is no third superstar. Is that the aging Gerald Wallace? More importantly, by signing in the East, you have to go through Chicago and Miami every year to just get to the championship series. Not an easy task. If you want to contend for a championship every year - the West is where you want to be, with aging Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks. The Thunder is your most significant obstacle and they've proven to be vulnerable to big lineups (Howard and Aldridge!).
Los Angeles and Dallas. Also attractive options - Williams goes back home and plays with Dirk, and Howard goes to LA to play with Kobe. Unlike New Jersey, you are surrounded by better players and you're in the West. But, you are joining teams and superstars that are nearing the end of their runs. The window may not be open for very long - certainly, long-term success is not guaranteed. And .... the two stars play against each other and the Thunder for the opportunity to get to the championship series.
Portland. They play together, four stars, young, everyone signed for multiple years. The immediate favorites in the West. A dynasty begins. But .... no large market.
In the end, they opt for the dynasty and choose Portland. Howard's agent informs Orlando of Howard's wishes. Orlando and Portland start to put pencil to paper on a blockbuster trade that will rock the NBA world
Step 6. Player Options
One wrinkle remains in the Blazer plan - Player Options. Jamal Crawford and Shawne Williams hold player options on their 2012/2013 seasons. It is generally assumed that Crawford is going to opt out, and SWilliams is going to opt in, but Portland needs to know prior to the draft in order to construct the trade for Howard. Players have until the end of June to make their election. The Blazers can't afford to make the trade, have Crawford reconsider and sign back on with the Blazers, and then not have the cap room to sign DWilliams.
SWilliams is easy. He is definitely exercising his player option, as he is not going to draw any offers in the free agent market close to the $3.1 million he will be due the next season. Having no ties to Portland, he is more than happy to exercise his option early and approve a trade to Orlando.
Crawford isn't as easy. Not one to weaken his bargaining position, Jamal recognizes that the Blazers need something from him. In the end, he is able to negotiate a $500k bonus to exercise his player option early, which he was going to do anyway.
The Blazers are now free and clear to execute their plan.
Step 7 - Utah
Always looking to save a buck, Utah is actively seeking a taker for Paul Milsap. Not that Milsap is a slouch, but at nearly $9 million for the next season, it's a hefty price to pay while you're trying to find playing time for your two young bigs - Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. For the second offseason in a row, Utah is not finding any quality offers for Milsap.
Portland jumps into action. Knowing that Utah loves Wesley Matthews, they talk to Utah about a swap. It's a double savings for Utah. The salaries match up for a trade, however Utah saves $2 million. Additionally, Matthews' actual salary is less than his stated contract as Portland's original offer to Wes was front end loaded - meaning Portland has already paid a portion of Matthew's future contract values.
Not only does it make sense financially, but Utah is losing CJ Miles to free agency and have not gotten much out of the aging and often injured Raja Bell. That leaves them with a young Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward at their wings. And they love Wesley's play. The perfect trade for Utah.
Orlando also jumps on board. The addition of Matthews into a crowded back-court full of SG's in Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson and JJ Reddick is not nearly as attractive as adding Milsap to a team nearly void of bigs - Orlando is delighted to get Milsap.
Step 8 - The Draft
Portland shocks the NBA world with the announcement that they've acquired Dwight Howard in a three-way trade that includes Orlando and Utah. The trade is as follows:
Portland gets Dwight Howard, and Orlando's 2013 1st round pick - top 15 protected for as long as is allowed
Utah gets Wesley Matthews
Step 9 - PGOTF.
Portland has effectively whittled it's roster down to four players. Howard at $19,536,360, Aldridge at $13,500,000, EWilliams at $1,442,880, and NSMith at $1,365,720. They have a salary cap hold for Batum at $6,466,095. With an expected 2012/2013 salary cap at around $60,044,000 - the Blazers have over $17,700,000 available to offer Deron Williams.
Shortly after July 1, Deron Williams agrees to sign a max (or near max) contract with the Blazers.
Step 10 - Batum.
Drawing interest from a variety of teams, Nicolas Batum signs an offer sheet with San Antonio for 5 years starting at $10 million per. A great debate starts among the Portland fan base - should the Blazers match? Is he worth it? At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. With Howard's, DWilliams' and Aldridge's contracts, and with the salary cap expected to decrease over the course of the new CBA agreement, the Blazers won't see salary cap room for years. They will not have the opportunity to sign a FA the caliber of Batum for quite a long time. The Blazers match the offer and retain Batum.
Step 11 - Fillnig out the Roster.
With six players now signed, the Blazers have the mid-level exception to sign one more significant player before they start filling in with min contract players. The Blazers could also split the exception to sign multiple players. They turn to JJ Hickson, who averaged 15 points and eight boards to close out the season with the Blazers. Hickson is very interested in returning to the Blazers. Unfortunately, his solid play did not go unnoticed around the league, and he is getting a lot of attention. Portland ends up using most of their mid level exception to sign Hickson to four years, starting at $5 million.
With little flexibility remaining, Portland resigns Joel Przybilla to a one year, minimum contract. And then they find out what Miami learned. Some veterans are willing to sign for less to come play for a bonafide contender. The Blazers talk Grant Hill out of retiring, and to come to Portland to try and win a championship. That sets the nine man rotation up as:
PG - DWilliams - NSmith
SG - EWilliams - GHill/Batum
SF - Batum - GHill, Hickson
PF - Aldridge - Hickson
C - Howard - Hickson/Przybilla
The Blazers then set out to find the 2012/2013 versions of Craig Smith to fill out the roster.
Step 12. Coach and GM,
The Blazers hire Phil Jackson as coach.
The Blazers hire Chad Buchanon as GM.
The Blazers hire me as assistant GM.
[Note from the site admis: This was originally posted in four parts, but we combined the posts into one.]