I know these articles will be coming left and right over the next few months, however I've been thinking long and hard about the Blazers current cap situation, longevity of current contracts and what options might be available this summer to improve the team.
I will start by saying that even if we did absolutely nothing in the offseason, we could still very conceivably hold the lofty expectation of matching this years success. Even with our "lousy" bench, porous defense and reliance on jump shots, there really is no reason to say we are going to get worse. With that in mind, I keep reading other posts with some very big changes being recommended. I just don't see why we would go and talk about trading Wes, Nico etc. when clearly, for the vast majority of us, this has been the most enjoyable Blazer season in years. We know what we have, let's not throw it all away in greed and lust.
To begin, let's first take a look at our salary going into the 2014-2015 season. (taken from storytellers amazing site)...
|ROSTER PLAYERS||LaMarcus Aldridge||16,006,000||Bird Rights|
|Nicolas Batum||11,765,500||12,235,750||Bird Rights|
|Robin Lopez||6,124,728||Bird Rights|
|Thomas Robinson||3,678,360||TO - 4,660,482||1st Round Pick|
|Damian Lillard||3,340,920||TO - 4,236,287||1st Round Pick|
|Dorrell Wright||3,000,000||Cap Space|
|Joel Freeland||3,013,512||Cap Space|
|Mo Williams||PO - 2,771,340||Room Exception|
|C.J. McCollum||2,421,000||TO - 2,525,160||TO - 3,219,579||1st Round Pick|
|Meyers Leonard||2,317,920||TO - 3,075,880||1st Round Pick|
|Victor Claver||1,370,000||Cap Space|
|Earl Watson||Minimum Salary|
|Allen Crabbe||862,000||NFG - 947,276||Cap Space|
|Will Barton||NFG - 915,243||Cap Space|
A few general observations.
1) Our roster is going to be very stable going into next year. At this point there are only two players who will drop off our roster naturally. Earl Watson is no longer on our books and I do not expect him to be back as a player. I would not be surprised to see him move into an assistant coaching role on our team or elsewhere. He even said as much in his exit interview today. Mo Williams will not be picking up his player option (PO). He said it early in the season and re-itterated it today during the exit interview.
2) Before speculating on free agency, extensions or trades here is the extpected salary cap breakdown
- Our team salary hit will be at roughly $61,145,580.
- Estimated 2014-15 cap to be $63,000,000 * updated projection
- Estimated 2014-15 luxury tax line to be $70,307,000 *same as last season as a conservative estimate.
3) Salary tools we can use this offseason outside of trades
- Full Mid Level Exception of - $5,305,000 for up to 4 years. Can be split amongst multiple players.
- Bi Annual Exception of - $2,077,000 for up to 2 years. Can be split amongst multiple players.
- Early Bird RIghts of - 175% of any current players salary (that has played for two consecutive seasons on same team) for up to 4 years and no less than 2 years with annual increase in salary of up to 7%.
- Non Bird Rights Vet Exception for Mo Williams - 120% of previous years salary for up to 4 years.
- Minimum Player Exception of - $500,000 for rookie to $1,450,000 for 10+ yr. vet. for up to 2 years
Ok, so given this I have a few notes and ideas.
1) Re-boot/Re-Build window. Clearly this roster was initially built by Neil Olshey to give us maximum flexibility in the offseason before 2015-16, giving him and Stotts a reasonable 3 year window to re-boot/build. It is my assumption that this season has pushed that window up drastically. Looking forward I would hope Olshey is now looking to shore up what has shown to be an extremely effective starting 5.
Luckily we have one of the wealthiest owners in all of pro sports. Mr. Allen has shown in the past that he is willing to spend if he feels we have a legitimate window to a title. I am going to project that we will start seeing his wallet open up for players on our team that we can use our bird rights for. I'll get into this more later.
2) Preserve our starting five. Given my statement that we need to shore up our starting five here is my thoughts on what we could do to shore up our starting five.
Lamacrus Aldridge - In the past two seasons, there have been questions about whether Lamarcus would re-sign. It would be hard to argue that his allegiance has done anything but strengthen, and has shifted from "will he", to "when should the blazers get it done". I would not use his early bird rights this year as that is capped at only 4 years on a contract and as good faith I believe we want to lock him up for as long term as possible. In any rate his trade value will not diminish with a longer contract on the books. This means we re-sign him after next season leaving no new salary implications for this coming season. Aldridge is one of two cornerstones to this franchise and should be treated as such.
Damian Lillard - Our other cornerstone. Not much to be said here. He will get his big contract in a couple years and deservedly so. For now he can live high on his measly adidas deal. $100+ mil !!! Again, no new salary implications for the coming year.
Nicholas Batum - Our only fully guaranteed contact on the roster through 2016. Also our second highest player on the team. I'm not going to dip too far into this debate, as its too big of one for this post. Let it be known that I am on the side of being very content with both the amount and length of the contract as he is absolutely a wonderful third option and swiss army knife. Again, no new salary implications for the coming year.
Robin Lopez - We all love Rolo for what he brought to this team. He will definitely be back next year on the same contract. The only question with Rolo is whether he is more fitted on the bench or in the starting lineup. AgainI will reiterate that look at what we did this year. If we use that as the floor, having him in the starting lineup is perfectly fine.Again, no new salary implications for the coming year.
Wesley Matthews - Ok, so fair warning this is where my post will start to draw some real debate. While I do not think Matthews is in the top tier of shooting guards in this league, I do believe that what he uniquely brings to this team cannot be understated. He is the engine that runs that starting five. He is the energy, the passion and the work ethic that, IMO, allowed us to succeed to the heights that this season brought us. I would fully recommend that we use our Early Bird Rights on We$ and give him the recognition he de$erve$. Now, this is where we get creative.
Next season Wes will be slated to make $7,245,000. I would say make extending him the first priority of the offseason to something along the following contract...
- 4 Years fully guaranteed with no team or player options in the fourth.
- 1st year $8,000,000, 2nd $8,333,000, 3rd $8,666,000, 4th $9,000,000.
- Make $750,000 of each year payable dependent on incentives. Bonus would kick in if he achieved the following... 1) NBA All Star, 2) All NBA Team in either defense or offense, 3) Wins 6th man of the year.
The only salary implication his extension would give us is $755,000 for next season and only $5,000 of that is guaranteed.
We all know how hard of a worker and team oriented player Wes is so first, reward him by making him a long term Blazer. The real value of this contract is the length it give him. The salary would make him currently the third highest paid player (until Dame gets his check) Also the 6th man of the year incentive is there in case we feel the need to make him our Emanuel Ginobli. Funny enough, that is roughly the same amount Ginobli makes as the Spurs 6th man.
As many have said on this site, moving Wes to the bench has quite a few merits. It would instantly improve both the defense and offense not to mention the leadership and hustle. Now, I'm not saying we need to do this right away, but if we found the right player to replace him on the starting unit, I think it could possibly pay dividends. Either way he is going to get the minutes of a starter whether as 6th man or not. He'll also be paid like one as well. Just gotta sell him his role, and funny enough I see Wes as the one player on this squad who would be open enough to be that flexible.
3) State of our current bench. Boy if this isn't a hot topic. I don't think any of us will argue that in order to be competitive in the second round of the playoffs against the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, we will need a bench that can go punch for punch. I liked what I saw out of Will and T-Rob just as much as everyone else, but we need more than just one hot game. I will again say that even if we do absolutely nothing, our expectation will still be to get into the second round and hope for magic. Not a bad floor.
So first I'll break our current bench into a few groupings...
- Mo Williams - Another hot topic for sure. He has already stated that he is opting out so now the decision comes to whether we want to commit to him for a long term contract. This is a bit tricky and will depend on a great many things. I personally don't mind what he brings to the team, although I wouldn't spend more than five minutes trying to debate that. If he stays it means we give him at least a 3 year contract at probably around 3-4 mil a year.
- Will Barton, T-Rob, & CJ- These three I see as absolutely, without a doubt coming back next year. They are kid of the darlings of our bench, both by the fans and the national media. They are all on reasonable contracts and certainly provide the most upside. It is good to mention that the upside they all have is built on an already fairly solid base so they are going to get their fair share of minutes next year off the pine.
- Allen Crabbe - He has no trade value and is the lowest paid player on our team. He also has upside in draining the 3 ball so I don't see any opportunity for him going anywhere.
- Joel Freeland - Joel is a bit of an enigma to me. I really like what he brought to the table this year and did a pretty valiant job filling in the massive hole of big man off the bench. He really is more of a 4 than a 5 and if I had to pick today who I would want to invest in backing up Aldridge I'd give my money to T-Rob. If we can't find something better at the 5 by using our exceptions or trades then I'd hang on to Joel, otherwise he is trade bait..
- D-Wright, Meyers Leonard & Claver- I see these three as our primary trade bait. I listed them in descending value both in terms of what they bring to our team plus their trade value. D-Wright just didn't live up to his potential this year. I think he got caught in an incredible team chemistry and just didn't fit in. He does have some NBA skills and I think Wright has the most trade appeal as he is a veteran with a decent 3 point shooting skill just about any team would like. He has name recognition to immediately open up a phone call. Meyers to me is a project no longer worth pursuing. Go ahead and debate it but my mind is made up. If we can trade him as a package with Wright as a talented but aimless big man then fantastic. Claver just needs to play out his last year on his contract before going back to Europe and I would love to see him get more minutes, just with another team. Not alot of trade value here but I think Wright buoy's them up a bit and could maybe be the top of a package deal.
4) Improve the bench - I think we are going to see some natural progression from T-Rob, Will Barton and CJ. None of them have had much time in the NBA and this will be an extremely important offseason for all of their careers. I would be surprised if all three didn't come out with a sharper, much improved sense of the game. So that being said I believe we need to improve the following areas...
- Defensive wing player - This in my opinion is where we could really improve our team. Again if we did nothing and brought back Mo then we are still in decent shape. If we could find a defensive 2/3 that could either be first off the bench, or replace Wes in the starting lineup then we would have some serious room for improving our team. Wes being this defensive/offensive 6th man should scare other teams. We would pretty much just need to replace Wes' defensive skill set without needing to match his offensive production. By taking Wes' offense out of the starting five you open up shots for Batum. Frankly I think Batum has a higher offensive ceiling. If you had a high energy, high IQ player to play solid pesky defense in the starting unit it would take the pressure off Lillard. Think Tony Allen, Thabo Sefolosha, Avery Bradley.
- Big man off the bench - Joel just isn't gonna cut it against any opposing center that can hold their own. We need a big body. I'm looking for a legit 6'10" - 7'. Has the ability to set good screens, pull in rebounds and shore up the interior for 15-20 minutes a game. If you find a player with any offensive polish on top of that then you've scored big. Think Omeka Okafor, Anderson Varejao, Omer Asik, Jordan Hill, Epke Udoh.
- Backup primary ball handler -Someone who can do one of the following; penetrate, hit the midrange or splash a three at a decent clip. We don't need an offensive dynamo here, but someone who is confident in just one of those categories and has a decent assist/TO ratio. Think Shawn Livingston, Patty Mills, Steve Blake, Ramon Sessions or Mo Williams.
5) How to get it done - So the horror of most of these fan posts is that we dream up the perfect team then completely fail to bring reality into the picture. Well here are our building blocks to work with...
- Full MLE - $5,305,000 / 4 yrs.
- BAE - $2,077,000 for up to 2 years. Can be split amongst multiple players.
- Minimum Salary's - $1,450,000 / 2 yrs.
- Wright + Leonard + Claver = $10,130,500 ($6,687,000 x 150% + $100,000)
- Wright + Leonard + Claver + Freeland = $14,650,000 ($9,700,000 x 150% +$100,000)
- * I believe if we if we traded all of these players and brought back this salary we would only be left with the Mini Mid Level Exception of $3,278,000.
Ok, so there it all is. Hopefully this serves as food for thought. Storyteller (or anyone for that matter). Carve up my numbers and find where I've made errors as I am certain there has to be a few. I've got a general knowledge of the new CBA but not as well as some of you I'm sure. Also I'm no english professor so pardon the gramatical; and spellling mistakes.
Also, please use this to tell me (and each other) which players you feel we should target using the salary tools we have at hand.