Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Thomas Robinson, Tony Allen, Contracts and Comps

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Blazer's Edge readers ask about acquiring Thomas Robinson and Tony Allen, Portland's drafting prowess, how to judge the value of a contract, and more.

Monday Morning Mailbags...mmmmmm...mighty nice! (copyright: Dr. Seuss)

Dave!

T-Rob! Want!

Houston wants to move him for cap space. The Blazers have second rounders to spare with no cash footprint involved. Sounds like a match! This will be the second time [Thomas Robinson] has been moved though. Is it just circumstance or is something wrong with him? Would he be a good pickup for us?

Marty

Circumstance or player? It's always a little of both.

Seeing a lottery pick traded in the middle of his rookie season is rare. Having it happen twice in one year is practically unheard of. I don't believe it's all on Robinson himself. Sacramento is in flux, has weird priorities anyway, and just didn't have a plan which included T-Rob. (One would think they'd have considered that before drafting him, but hey.) If Houston moves him it'll be for cap space to sign Dwight Howard. Circumstances haven't favored the guy.

On the other hand, you don't see these things happen to LeBron James, eh? If teams believe they have a star in the making they'll either find a way to keep him or make sure they get value in return for him. That's not happened at either of Robinson's stops. He could still be good, but having two front offices pass on you for packages highlighted by Patrick Patterson is not a good sign.

Granted, we don't know yet whether the Rockets want to move him or if they'll insist on a future first-rounder in order to do so. But if the Blazers got Robinson for a couple second rounders (as you suggest) that would give you a pretty good idea of his perceived value around the league.

My guess is that folks fear T-Rob is a one-trick pony, that he won't be fast enough to guard nouveau power forwards or big enough to guard centers, and especially that his offense includes no jumpers and will limit and/or slow down his team's sets. You're probably projecting him as a back-up power forward at this point, hoping for more but not banking on it.

That might be a good gamble for the Blazers under normal circumstances. They need players everywhere. They could probably find minutes for Robinson if he earned them. But these aren't normal circumstances.

Portland's slogan entering the free-agency period is EMC...Every Million Counts. The Blazers' greatest obstacle this summer won't be need or players available to fill those needs, it'll be budgeting. They'll be threading the cap needle as it is. Even 1 or 2 million dollars could make a huge difference. If you show up at the bargaining table with $4 million when a couple competitors come with $5 million you're done. The Blazers don't have enough selling points to make up the monetary gap. A million bucks, 1/60th of the cap, could mean the difference between a really good second signing and having to scrape by with a less-than-ideal solution.

Robinson makes $3.5 million next year. That's the difference between a $12 million offer to a center and an $8.5 million offer, or between an $8 million offer to a guard or a $4.5 million offer. His talent is neither great enough nor bankable enough to justify that difference.

The only way this works is if the Blazers get all their other business done first, have a little room left over they don't plan to use, and decide to take a flyer on the guy. That's not something you can predict. So I'd say Robinson is a nice thought but not really a part of the plan.

Dave,

I'd consider last year's draft a success (the first draft for this brain trust). Lillard was an obvious great pick and the verdict is still out on whether or not Myers Leonard was the right choice over Tyler Zeller. The old guard passed on 4-year small school rebounding machine (Faried) but the new guard jumped on the opportunity to draft a 4-year small school scoring machine (Lilliard). Am I too quick to give credit to our current staff's ability to evaluate talent? Where is your confidence level in the current blazers staff ability to draft?

Rory

Too soon to tell. The Lillard pick was coming down the track from a mile away. Part of that long view of the right thing to do came from the Blazers themselves. Credit goes to them for identifying their guy and sticking with him. As we just discussed, some teams in front of them were...slightly less astute? But the combination of talent and need made Lillard a good fit and most folks saw that.

Meyers Leonard was also on this site's short list of good players to gamble on. He was (and is) a multi-year project but he's a center with upside. I don't fault them for that pick either.

Will Barton has shown decent return for a second-rounder so far. We'll see where that goes but he's a nice bonus.

In other words, they've done well.

This year the pick is lower and the expectations higher. That's a bad combination. In a way the front office can't miss because the team needs help at pretty much every position. But they need veteran, immediate help of the kind the 10th selection in a relatively weak crop won't provide. That makes this draft much harder to think through than last year's.

A couple days ago Ben gave us a transcript of Neil Olshey's statements after a draft workout. In response to questions about his ability to find a good player Olshey said:

That's kind of what they pay me to do. I'm not going to tell Paul Allen that we're not going to get a really good player at 10 because that's what he hired us to do.

And...

I think it's a solid draft, I like where we're positioned, I think there are really good players at that level. If you have a realistic expectation of what they can produce, I think you're going to get a quality player.

There's a "yes" in there somewhere, but it's qualified. And it should be.

I do have confidence that this staff can spot a good player. I'll have that until they demonstrate otherwise. I don't have confidence that a good enough player will be present at #10 to merit getting excited about. Therefore to me this draft is kind of a freebie for the front office. If they find a keeper that's to their credit. If not, well, that's not a huge surprise.

I'll judge Portland's front office far more by what they do through trades or free agent signings this summer than by anything they do in the draft.

Second Question...

Whenever Blazer's Edge runs a piece associated with Blazer CEO Chris McGowan you use the same corporate head shot for his image. Will you please let your readers in on the inside joke?

Rory

There's no joke, actually.

We're a nationally-known, professional site affiliated with a nationally-known, professional network. That means we only use pictures under the following circumstances:

1. Pictures we've taken ourselves, as allowed through our press credentials.

2. Properly credited, and paid-for, pictures obtained via designated sources, including a couple of national press corps.

3. Pictures from other sources used with express permission. (This one is rare.)

An amateur site can get away with searching on Google, copying an image, and posting away. They're not supposed to, but copyright holders usually don't notice small infractions like that and it's not often worth their time to police them. We don't do that because it's not fair to those copyright holders and because we could be liable for the infraction.

In most cases our affiliation means we can bring you better pictures with a clearer conscience than anybody else. But since national photographers aren't climbing all over each other to snap Mr. McGowan's photo and since us asking him to sit and say "cheese" would result in a rather cheesy look, we actually only have a couple pictures to choose from. That's why you see them repeated.

Dave,

Any thoughts on going after Tony Allen in free agency? He would allow us to move Wes (if he's still on the roster) to the 6th man role to provide a spark off the bench while keeping the defensive presence in the starting line-up. Best part- he'll be cheap!

Ryne

I like Allen but I don't see this move making sense. Allen's defense is good--better than Matthews'--but he's 31 instead of 26 and this three-point shooting is non-existent. Matthews' distance shooting makes him plenty valuable to Portland. I could see getting away from it for a guy like Victor Oladipo. He'd be on a cheap rookie contract and would have plenty of years to develop a shot. But Allen's new contract won't be that much of a savings from Matthews and Wesley's trade value on his own won't be high enough to make this move much more than lateral.

Dave,

I hear folks arguing about whether certain players are worth their contracts. Nicolas Batum is the latest but I'm sure there will be more with free agents coming in. My question is how to tell whether a guy is overpaid or not. Doesn't it just depend on your expectations?

Mike

It depends on the barometer you're using.

Professional sports salaries are determined by measuring comparable athletes, the "comp" system. Teams and agents look at the contracts of players similar to the free agent in production and position. This gives you a base salary range which can be modified by other factors including age, potential, the status of the team, amount of competition for the player's services, etc. If three other power forwards in your player's ballpark are making "x" amount of dollars and your player signs for that, you feel like you did OK.

This is one reason why people hate owners who overspend on players. They throw the comp system out of whack. As soon as someone signs a ridiculous contract I imagine general managers are inundated with, "If that guy makes 'x' then my guy should be making 'x'+20%!" I also imagine most of those agents get talked down, but every contract has a potential ripple effect.

When considering contracts in isolation, production vs. dollar compared to other players around the league at the same position is the best way to go.

In the big picture, though, you also have to contend with a salary cap that--at least theoretically--limits the total amount you can spend on players. This introduces the concept of opportunity cost. Dollars spent on one player cannot be spent on another, or at least not without restrictions. If the 76'ers offered up Jrue Holiday in trade the Blazers would probably balk, not because Holiday's $9.2 million next year is out of line with league salaries but because they already have Damian Lillard and that $9.2 million of cap space could be better spent helping another position of need.

In addition to asking whether a player is worth his contract empirically (i.e. judging by comps) you also have to ask what else you're sacrificing in order to pay that player. If you can cover a small loss at one position with a greater gain at another position you've achieved an overall net gain. If Player A makes $10 million and you trade him away for Player B who makes $4 million you're not just comparing those two players. You're asking whether Player B plus what you can get for the remaining $6 million you've now freed up will exceed the benefit of having Player A. This is where many of the current trade scenarios come from. This is also where you'll find the arguments that some players aren't "worth their salary".

Looking at each individual, I'd say that the key members of Portland's roster are all performing at or above their salary level. In that sense they're worth their salary. But impending summer cap space also opens up a fairly rare chance to replace each dollar spent on a current player with a dollar spent on someone else. (That only happens this cleanly when you're well under the cap.) That opening brings the opportunity cost question front and center.

If the Blazers can trade away an expensive contract for near-equal production or even a slight downgrade and then turn the extra cap space into a better opportunity at another position, they'll have to consider it. They're unlikely to move any of their most expensive contracts, but if they do it won't be because they thought that player wasn't earning his keep. Rather they'd be betting that the total gain will outweigh the individual loss. The contract they trade away won't be too high in absolute terms, just too high to allow them to make another move that they deem more beneficial in the long run.

Keep sending questions to the address below and we'll keep answering! Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line to make sorting easy.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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