Where Are the Portland Trail Blazers Going with the Chris Kaman Signing?

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers will have Chris Kaman in the fold in 48 hours. Where do they go from here?

With Summer League just around the corner it's time to say goodbye to the last dregs of the Chris Kaman questions.

Dave,

Just wanted to get a thought out about the Kaman signing. Them promoting capologist Joe Cronin to head of player personnel right before the signing may not be a coincidence. His partially guaranteed 2nd year is why. They could trade him to a team trying to clear cap space that could wave him. The other team could get $5M to make salaries match and immediately wave him to clear up some cap room and only pay 1 of the $5M. This would be similar to the Bynum-Deng trade. While his contract seems pricey, it is very tradable at the deadline or the end of the season. Thoughts?

Daniel

It's a good point. Let's use this as a jumping off point to explore the possible roads forward for the Blazers with this deal.

The Blazers will have the option to trade Chris Kaman as part of a package deal after mid-December. The collective bargaining agreement mandates a waiting period for trading newly signed players to keep teams from gaming the system, signing players to contracts in order to facilitate immediate deals that they otherwise couldn't make. As you point out (astutely) Kaman's contract would be, in essence, an expiring deal for Portland's trade partner. Reportedly there will be a second year on the contract but it's only guaranteed for $1 million.

Kaman's contract fills a gap in Portland's ability to make trades. He'll make facilitating deals easier. Up until now the Blazers have had to draw from two broad categories of players to trade away: vital starters making a bunch of money and expendable, young bench guys making very little. Obviously the Blazers would prefer to keep the former while trading the latter for better, or at least more experienced, players. But those better, more experienced players have salaries lining up with Portland's starters, not the cheaper reserves. In order to make salaries match with a good veteran, the Blazers would be forced to part with one of their own starters (creating a less-desirable, lateral move) or they'd have to trade 3-4 low-dollar bench players. Trading 3-for-1 or greater is hard on both teams. The sending team empties its roster of young talent and the receiving team doesn't have available roster spots to absorb the incoming guys. Those trades aren't impossible, but they're difficult to work.

Kaman's $5 million salary sits in the middle zone. Package him with a young player making $3 million and you can receive up to $12 million of salary in return. Voila! Problem solved.

The Blazers have the option of keeping Kaman until next summer as well. They could waive him, take the $1 million salary cap hit, and use the rest of the space for other free agents. In order to make this practical they'd have to end end up $5 million or more under the cap line after letting Kaman go. Otherwise they could achieve the same effect with cap exceptions, making Kaman's release meaningless.

As we've been discussing for a calendar year now--and as the incomparable TDarkstar pointed out recently in this post--there's a serious hitch in this plan. Even if the Blazers manage to re-sign their incumbent players quickly and cheaply, they're going to have trouble generating much more than $5 million in cap space after releasing Kaman. One of the better-case scenarios gives them between $6-7 million, hardly a significant improvement. Lingering cap holds or high raise demands could eat away at that number. Releasing Kaman and pocketing the cap space next summer only makes sense if there's a fairly major trade in the meantime or if the Blazers intend to renounce another core player whose contract will expire next July, adding that amount to the available room.

The critical thing to notice here: taking advantage of either of these options means making further moves, not just playing the string out with the current roster. Look at the possibilities again, roughly in order of disruption:

1. Trade Kaman and a young player for a more established player. This is fun to consider, but how many teams will want to drop a well-established player just for the cap space and a chance at a young guy? It's possible, but the range of options might be small.

2. Trade Kaman and a starter for a better starter. At least you're giving out talent for talent here. This means breaking up the core but if the incoming guy was good enough, it would pass muster.

3. Cut Kaman and an expiring-contract starter to create cap space. Then the Blazers would be fishing the free agent market again...not exactly a venue of success for them lately.

Any way you slice it, this move does not lean towards the "let's stand pat and add to the current roster while keeping it intact" point of view. That stance is most defensible in the Kaman-and-bench-player trade scenario, but the return on that scenario is also the lowest of the three.

If the Blazers wanted to keep the core intact while building onto its fringes, the clearest path would have been utilizing this year's MLE (and 1 or 2 following) to add talent regardless of position. Assuming the Blazers planned to re-sign all of their current players and leave themselves without extra cap space, they would have had 3 good MLE opportunities before venturing into luxury tax land. They could have added a long-term reserve option this year, another next, and if needed a third the year after. In the meantime they would have expected their young players to fill in the gaps. The success or failure of those young players would have established priorities for the next MLE signing.

If the Blazers had taken this route, the main question this year would have been, "Who's good enough to help us for the next 3-4 years?" Position, length of contract, flexibility would have taken a back seat. If the Blazers satisfied any of their bench needs--wing, center, point guard--they'd have been set.

Under these conditions a single-year contract like Kaman's would have been a detriment, not an asset. Kaman's signing would have been a near-total waste. 1 of Portland's 3 potential opportunities (their only opportunities without touching the core) would have been squandered. It makes no sense...unless this is not the plan.

So yes, Daniel, your assertion is quite apt.  We're going down one of three roads here. Either the Blazers will flip Kaman for another player, turn him into extra cap space (significant cap space that actually buys immediate help and not just more waiting and preserving flexibility), or this will become another of a litany of single-year free-agent signings that didn't do much. The first option seems the most hopeful. The last option? Let's not even think about that. Either way, if the Blazers are to generate long-term success from their Big Move of 2014, the story isn't done yet.

Cross your fingers and keep the Mailbag questions coming! You can submit them to the address below. (The questions, not your fingers. Because that'd be gross.)

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard

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