Analysis: Portland Trail Blazers Agree To Sign UFA C Chris Kaman

Harry How

Digging into the Portland Trail Blazers' agreement to sign unrestricted free agent center Chris Kaman to a two-year contract.

I know that correlation is not causation, but how come every time I go on vacation Neil Olshey signs a center?

By now you've heard that the Blazers have committed most of their Mid-Level Exception to Chris Kaman for two years, although only the first is fully guaranteed. I heard while on a family outing. I'm now sitting in a dark corner of a hotel room among sleeping children, typing one-fingered on a mobile phone because the Internet connection doesn't work, asking myself the same questions you are:

1. WHAT?!?!?

2. Did you say MLE or BAE? Because if you said BAE then maybe...oh. It is MLE, huh?

3. What about Spencer Hawes????

4. WHAT?!?!?!?

I'll treat these questions at length when I return from vacation (and to a full-sized, ten-fingered keyboard) but here's my quick take.

Hawes would have been a better get than Kaman but it's possible the Blazers got wind he was going for more than the MLE. Yes, he reportedly made noise about liking Portland but he also wants a large contract. "I'm interested in the Blazers" could have been code-speak for "I've heard enough $5 million offers. If you want to talk to me, you have to bid higher." Maybe the threat of the Blazers getting Hawes for the MLE brought out another suitor. If so, fair enough.

Kaman appears to have two advantages. He's a center and the Blazers can cut him loose after one year. This preserves their flexibility in the summer of 2015. There's no chance Hawes would have agreed to that kind of deal. His salary would have eaten into Portland's space going forward. If that's the priority, again...fair enough.

The interesting part of this equation: the Blazers won't have that much space available in 2014 after cap holds take their toll. The only way to generate enough space to make a difference would be to extend, trade, or renounce players whose contracts come up next summer. Though still possible, extensions don't seem likely. If the Blazers can get LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez to take little enough, soon enough while preserving more than exception-level cap room next year, more power to them.

The more plausible explanation of the Kaman signing is that the Blazers want to reserve their right to make serious course changes next year. Saying that signing Kaman telegraphed their intention to do so would be unfair. But that single-year contract and Kaman's relatively dim magnitude among the constellation of potential signings don't exactly pave the road to the future in cement. It falls closer to "wait and see" than "here we go".

Why the team seems cautious about offering a multi-year contract to a bigger talent remains to be seen. Perhaps they're plotting a huge, strategic acquisition next summer. Perhaps they doubt their ability to retain their current core and don't want to store up spare parts if the car won't be in the garage. Or maybe their self-assessment reveals that the team, though promising, needs more to contend than 1-2 MLE signings over the next couple years could provide. Under any of those circumstances $5 million for one year makes more sense than $5 million with raises over the next three.

Chris Kaman is a more humdrum signing than most expected from Portland's big swing of the summer. (And that's being kind.) The whys of the move are far more interesting -- likely telling -- than the move itself. We're not going to know the final outcome of this event for another year. Until then, as we seem to say most every summer with this franchise, we'll have to wait and see.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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