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An Analysis of Today's Events: Roy, Millsap, and McMillan

This has been a busy day.  You can catch all of the vital Portland Trail Blazers news in the posts below this one.  Once you've caught up, here's the analysis that you may or may not hear elsewhere.

On the Brandon Roy Re-Signing

We're certainly hearing a lot about this in the papers and on the radio.  Everybody can relax.  Brandon Roy is the cornerstone of this franchise.  The Blazers are not going to let Brandon Roy go anywhere.  Everyone from the guy who picks up stray Blazer Dancer sequins off of the court to the hugest stuffed shirt at Vulcan headquarters knows that the team would nosedive on the court and in the court of public opinion should Roy leave.  You simply couldn't manufacture a bigger energy-sucking, ticket-refund-demanding buzzkill.  They know that they can't even let Roy get to restricted free agency.  Brandon Roy is going to get what Brandon Roy wants.

So far everybody has been focusing on identifying the source holding up the inevitable.  Is it Pritchard?  Is it Allen?  Is it the Vulcan execs?   That's not the critical point here.  Wherever it's coming from, the wrangling and posturing is not about Brandon Roy.  If this roster looked like San Antonio's Roy would already have his deal.  But it doesn't.  Right behind Roy comes a veritable herd of young, talented players up for contract negotiations in the next few years. 

The most immediate of them is LaMarcus Aldridge who, by the way, has the exact same agent as Roy.  The Blazers don't want to offer LaMarcus a five-year max deal, at least not without a fight.  But they can't very well skip blithely into Brandon Roy's arms, give him an instant max extension, hold a celebratory parade down Broadway, and then start playing hardball with Aldridge.  That would look disrespectful and cheese everybody off.  They have to at least fight with Roy if they're going to fight with LaMarcus.  The reality is they're probably going to have to make both contracts equal but you can understand them wanting to split the difference in cost between the two players rather than automatically maxing them both.  I don't think it's going to work, but you can see where they'd try.

LaMarcus isn't the end of the story either.  Greg Oden will be coming up in a couple years.  He's the kind of player who seems to demand a maximum offer but hasn't played like a max guy yet.  Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, and Jerryd Bayless are possibilities on the horizon as well.  Any of those players who remain with the team, provided they grow reasonably, will be making their cases for huge deals.  It's going to be difficult to start pulling the hard-case negotiation routine with any of them (particularly Oden) if you've been auto-maxing the players who came before.  But if you negotiated hard with Roy, which Blazer will you not negotiate with?  This is a complex arena.  It's like poker with the agents and players.  Even if you know you're going to fold a hand you still want to protect your table image so people don't think you're easy.  So you posture before you fold, stare them down, make them a little nervous that you really do have something and if they raise you again you're going to call them on it.  If you have to lose you want to lose a hand, not the whole shooting match.

The economic realities of the situation also give the Blazers incentive to chew on this a while.   Two max deals over five years runs into the mid-$100 million range in real money.  You're going to take a deep breath before you sign those papers no matter who that money is going to.  Plus you have a double-whammy with the salary cap and luxury tax threshold declining already and more forecast to come added in with a new CBA being negotiated.  That makes every long-term contract risky.  You can't predict how those numbers will affect the team.  Executives, whether of basketball or business variety, hate having to operate on incomplete information.  Shaving a year off reduces the risk.  The team would be foolish not to try and get those terms.  Again, it probably won't work, but they have to try.  If it takes a game of contract chicken, well, these wouldn't be the first negotiations in which that happened.  Most of the time the player stays put and everyone walks away happy.

Have you ever been out biking and crested the top of a huge hill, suddenly looking down at a steep, half-mile slope ahead of you?  That's where the Blazers are right now.  They pedaled like heck to get here but now the grade changes precipitously.  They're going to pick up speed whether they want to or not.  They can't adjust much or turn around after this point.  If they blow it there are going to be dire consequences.  Right now you're watching them do what all of us do in that situation.  They're putting on the brakes, slowing down a little, making sure they get a good, safe start so they're not wildly out of control halfway down.  If you have any doubts about whether they'll go, remember that they came here specifically to take this ride.  It'll happen.

On Paul Millsap

I've seen the numbers.  I know the deal is front-loaded to make it uncomfortable for Utah to sign.  I still think at that amount they're going to do it.  It was a technically brilliant offer.  It makes the Jazz squirm but the Blazers would still be getting a comfortable bargain if Utah doesn't sign.  But it's also an acknowledgement that Millsap isn't the perfect fit here, else the maximum would have been offered.  The Jazz will simply want him more, probably shedding Boozer if they can to make the financial pain more palatable.  Until we hear officially whether or not Utah has matched I'm just going to assume we're not getting him.  Ending up with him would be a nice bonus.

I'm pretty sure that after this the serious free-agent offers are done.  You may see the Blazers take a run at Andre Miller on the cheap.  They may be protecting a little extra cap room in the Millsap offer in order to facilitate a trade.  But you probably won't see another free agent offer this big.

On Coach McMillan's Extra Year

Extending Nate for another year made a ton of sense for everybody.  I believe what he says about being comfortable earning his contract year by year.  It's not like he's a lame duck every year.  There's an extra year of cushion.  He might just be the kind of guy who likes that challenge of proving himself.  It's not a horrible financial move either.  If you're performing well it makes sense not to tie yourself up unduly long.  Open options usually make you more money whether you stay or go.  The team probably isn't in the mood to spend money until it has to, so they're likely comfortable with the arrangement.  The option was built into the contract for a reason.  Plus now Nate can preach the "earning it every year" gospel to all of these players who are thinking about impending long-term deals.

All of that aside, it also seems like the two parties are still feeling each other out, even after all of these years.  That's not because either side is opaque or devious, rather because the team has been (and still is) in a near-constant state of flux.  If the organization doesn't get him some veteran help at some point I could see Nate wanting the option to walk.  On the other hand the team still wants to see if Nate is the guy for the next phase of their development.  Neither side is keeping the other on a short leash but both still have questions.  Given that, a couple years seems about right.

Heck of a week, eh?   Next week should be eventful too.

--Dave (