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Draft Reflections

I'm going to do the best I can to sum up my feelings on the night.  And let me forewarn you, that's exactly what they're going to be...feelings.  I'm going to be far more fan-ish than usual, I'm sure.  It's been an exhausting night emotionally and a long day physically.

Courtesy of our good friend NightBlueFruit and his diary, here are the list of changes today:

Incoming Players
Greg Oden
Steve Francis
Channing Frye
Rudy Fernandez
Petteri Koponen
Josh McRoberts
Taurean Green
James Jones

Outgoing Players
Zach Randolph
Freddie Jones
Dan Dickau

Clearly the first, most overwhelming story of the night is that  That's where the discussion should begin and end.  I know it won't, not even in this post, let alone in the comments.  But in the long run that is the move that will make the most difference.  In fact nothing else on this list even comes close.  The lesson of the evening remains, "Be really, really happy Blazer fans!"  Let's not lose sight of that.

The major topic of conversation for the next few days will be the Zach trade.  In some ways that's unfortunate, but that's the way it is.  Some folks are asking why it had to happen on draft night and overshadow the festivities.  The answer is simple:  there's going to be a moratorium for a little while now until the new salary cap is calculated.  On July 1st (this Sunday) teams and free agents will begin to negotiate.  They won't be able to sign any deals until midway through the month when everything is set.  All of those negotiations will utilize the 2007-08 salaries though.  This year's salaries are going bye-bye.  So to make a deal work under this year's cap it pretty much had to get done tonight.  Besides, it wasn't a lock that this was going to disrupt the proceedings so much.  I think many people question the timing because they also question the deal.  The Blazer brain trust obviously believed in the deal though.  If we all saw things through their eyes we wouldn't be questioning, we'd be parading Kevin Pritchard around on our shoulders tonight for snagging a franchise center and trading Zach all in the same evening.  If we had gotten somebody popular with the crowd the party would have gone on all night long because of this move and this might be heralded as the greatest non-championship night in Blazer history.  Maybe it should be anyway.

Obviously if you've read my comments you can tell that I, too, have some problems with and/or questions about the deal.  These all revolve around Steve Francis.  Specifically I'd like to hear the reason why this deal was attractive.  (I'd also love to know what else was out there but I know that will never happen.)  I think there's legitimate reason to question because we've heard this phrase from management multiple times over the last few months:  we're not going to take on bad characters, bad contracts, or veterans on the decline (especially if those veterans are expensive).  Steve Francis is 30 years old and his career is in free fall without a parachute.  The Knicks couldn't wait to get rid of him.  His contract is enormous for what he brings.  Though it only lasts two years $33 million is nothing to sneeze at.  He wants the ball in his hands all the time when he's on the court.  He wants to take a ton of shots and be the focus of the offense.  He's not a great defender.  He out and out quit on his team on several occasions.  He's been described as a cancer in the locker room.  He's strike one, two, and three against all of the stated tenets of our new culture.  I don't think any GM in the league would choose him over Zach.  Now again this is just what I've seen, heard, and read.  Maybe what I've seen, heard, and read is wrong.  But there's a ton of smoke surrounding this guy.  I don't see much difference between having him and having Zach except that Zach is a more bankable talent.  In my mind that's legitimate reason to question this trade.  Again this is just a feeling but the idea of having Steve Francis suit up for the Blazers leaves my insides a little empty.

Obviously a big part of the motivation for the trade was financial.  In the next two years there's no gain.  We save $600,000 this year and actually pay $6.3 million more in 2008-09.  (That is assuming we don't just let Frye walk.)  After that things get more rosy.  In 2009-10 we save 11.8 million and should be far enough under the cap to sign a free agent much as Chicago did this year.  We also avoid paying Zach's $17 million in 2010-11.  Basically we gained some tangible relief for Paul Allen's wallet and a possible chance at a free agent window.  Whether you think that's adequate compensation for losing Zach and taking Frye and Francis depends on your point of view.  

For those who are thinking buyout I suspect you can pretty much forget it.  Francis gets $16 and $17 million over the next two years.  He can agree to a buyout and according to cap rules whatever the agreed number is will be the salary cap cost of the contract.  In layman's terms that means a buyout only helps us if Francis is willing to take less money.  At 30 years old and performing like he is he's never, ever, EVER going to approach getting that kind of salary from anyone else.  That means if we did buy him out it would be at, or darn close to, his current salary.  That provides zero cap relief for us.  The $33 million would be on our books anyway.

In the end this trade shows how the Blazers felt about Zach as much as anything.  They will not say it, nor should they, but they wanted him gone.  It wasn't on-court, it wasn't off-court, it was just everything.  This trade was the equivalent of the last scene in the mob move Casino where they take Joe Pesci's character out to the cornfield and show him the business end of the baseball bat (and the convenient hole they pre-dug for him).

I suspect this means that the New York fans who were on their feet cheering tonight will find many of the same flaws in Zach's game and demeanor as the years go by.  Remember a couple of things when Zach is having a great season next year.  One, the Blazers' staff don't seem like bad judges of character.  Two, unless there's major incentive leopards seldom change their spots.  Multi-million dollar contracts and all the shots you can hoist don't provide very good incentive.

We should also take a moment to feel sorry for Freddie Jones.  He gave up a year off of his contract to come back to Portland and play.  Half a season later...boom.  He's gone.  At least this proves that our new GM isn't a slave to sentiment and is able to make tough decisions.  Some rumors say New York will just buy out Jones and Dickau.  I hope Freddie ends up in a good place if that's the case.

Transitioning back to the draft in general one of the things you see as you look over the roster is that the moving probably isn't done.  Assuming we re-sign Ime and Outlaw we have twelve people under contract already.  (That counts Francis and Frye.)  Oden is a lock for thirteen.  Even with the Europeans (including Freeland) staying in Europe that's still a pretty tight roster squeeze, especially if we want to add another veteran somewhere.  It seems likely somebody else will yet move this summer.  There have been hints that a small forward deal is still in the offing, perhaps including Francis.  (That would make me happy.)  It could be that Jack, Przybilla, or Webster might still be changing addresses.  We won't know for a while.

I'm hopeful that some of our later round picks could pan out.  There are some pretty nice names in there...some of which appeared to be coveted pre-draft.  Maybe they could be moved or maybe they could play.  It seems like we did pretty well with our non-Oden picks.

I don't think this draft answered the question of whether our staff is too in love with wheeling and dealing.  At some point we'll become known as the Whitsitts of the draft if we're this active every year.  However we didn't appear to overspend for anything this year and we did get some players we liked so I don't see any problems.  We're pretty much out of major players available for dealing and we're likely to have much more modest pick resources next year so that draft should be pretty indicative.

In the end I don't feel quite as happy as I want to because that New York deal just kind of shocked and drained me.  But my brain knows I should be happier and I'm certain I will be once I see these players hit the floor.  That's not too long now, as Summer League starts next week.  That will be the next step in our off-season journey together and I'll be there for every game offering you the best details and information I can.  I do take requests if there's something you'd like me to look out for in particular.

Oh...last thing...  Even though I sound critical of the Zach deal (or at least semi-stunned about it) I do think Kevin Pritchard has earned more than enough rope for me to say, "OK, I'm going with this and seeing where it leads" instead of jumping all over it.  I think Blazer fans in general are a little gun-shy from past years.  When you've fallen off a horse a dozen times you tend to gasp when your trusty steed steps in a gopher hole whether that's a big deal or not.  KP and company will just have to understand that and grin and bear it.  On the other hand we have to understand that our brilliant staff didn't get dumb overnight.  They know more about all of this than we do.  In some way this was the best deal for Zach and the best move for the team.  Even if we don't see how we pretty much have to trust in that for now.  And even if it does turn out to have been a mistake in the end (and I'm not saying it will be) every staff makes them.  At this point all the evidence tells me I'd rather have a mistaken Pritchard than a lot of dead-on GM's in this league.  And I'm actually encouraged that the staff was willing to make a less popular, less sexy move that they thought was right.  After all, if they weren't willing to do that we might be putting up with Adam Morrison's God-awful hairdo 82 games a year.  (Between him, Joakim Noah, and Drew Gooden we have a decent start for the all-grotesque hair team.  We just need to find some guards.)

I hope you enjoyed draft night.  On to Summer League!

--Dave (