Yesterday we gave you an overview of national experts analyzing the effect of the NBA's new television broadcast rights deal on the league as a whole. Today we're going to look at five ways tripling broadcast revenue might change the outlook for the Portland Trail Blazers.
As Willy Raedy said in this excellent post a couple weeks ago, the influx of money won't change Portland's fortunes completely. (Though it may have more of an effect than forecast, as the number will likely end up bigger than Willy--or anybody--imagined.) The Blazers have to commit serious cash to current players. Even if they do free up cap space, who around the league won't? When pundits are talking about the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets having room to fit a max contract under their belts, it'll be hard for the Blazers to press an advantage.
Even with dreams of chasing Kevin Durant with TV dollars dashed, these factors should change over the next couple years, perhaps to Portland's benefit.
1. The decision to re-sign Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez doesn't look like the end of the road financially.
All summer long Blazer fans have debated the "Matthews-Lopez, Summer of 2015" issue. Both are key starters. Both contracts expire after the coming season. If the Blazers choose to let them go they'll be rebuilding. If the Blazers opt to bring them back they'll be done building...capped out.
The talent, role, and salary of each player leaves him right on the "Will They/Won't They" line. The general consensus seems to be, "If the players will sign for 'X' or a little less, they'd be worth it. If they want 'X+$2 million', that's a problem." Extra money from television and a corresponding rise in the cap might not only make "X+$2 million" worth it, it might make "X +$2 million + Another Player or Two" possible.
No longer do these contract decisions seem like referendums on staying the course or starting over. Matthews and Lopez remain in the place their talent, prominence, and salary put them but the gray area around that point is going to move. They're going to end up on the good side of the dividing line. That'll make the decision to re-sign them much easier should Portland so choose.
2. Nicolas Batum is likely to become a rich man.
Experts are speculating that no matter how much the league "smooths down" the cap increase caused by new money, players will be angling to become free agents in 2016 when the deal comes into effect. Guess who's going to be a free agent that summer without any angling required? Trail Blazer forward Nicolas Batum, you may raise your hand.
Batum was so key to Portland's plans--so attractive to the covetous eyes of the Minnesota Timberwolves--that the Blazers were willing to commit to an 8-digit salary before he hit his prime to keep him in crimson and black. Batum's prime is arriving and his current contract looks like a bargain if you squint your eyes just right. Plus the Blazers are angling for a run at elite status and don't have clear ability to substitute for him.
Whatever number Batum names, the Blazers will have to think about paying. Naming numbers with the team already at the edge of the luxury tax boundary would be one thing. Naming numbers at the dawn of the New Era of Big Salaries will be another. That hand Batum just raised will likely be covered with bling soon.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge can punt the loyalty decision down the road.
Aldridge's contract expires next summer along with those of Lopez and Matthews. Had the Blazers won 30 games last year they'd be scrambling to trade him. Since they reached the second round of the playoffs it's looking like he'll stay. Either way, next summer has long lined up as the tipping point in that decision. If Aldridge wanted a max deal he would have needed to commit for five years. He could have asked for an opt-out but the Blazers could have rightly retorted, "We're making you our franchise player...how much more can we do?" Signing long-term with the Blazers or taking less money on a shorter contract somewhere else (in hopes of earning more later) were his basic options.
The TV deal puts Aldridge in a position to have his cake and eat it too. He can still sign a long-term contract with Portland but he'll have far more incentive to demand an opt-out. If he remains one of the best players in the league his max salary under the current structure will look paltry three years after the new one kicks in. The Blazers can no longer look him in the eye and say, "This is close enough to the maximum for you to commit to unconditionally."
More money spread around the league will broaden Aldridge's personal options as well. He still can't get more money from anybody than the Blazers can give him, but pretty soon the lesser deals that other teams can offer will even out with the current max deal from Portland. His choice will switch from "Less vs. More" to "More vs. Even More More".
Unless things go wonky, the end result will be Aldridge and his agent signing a long deal for security but demanding a mid-stream opt-out in order to ensure he continues to be paid commensurately with his talent and importance. The Blazers will likely grant same. Aldridge will have earned a handsome sum and bought himself another couple years to figure out whether the Blazers can take him to the promised land or whether grass grows greener elsewhere.
4. Pressure on Portland's Young Players Will Decrease...and Increase
Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, C.J. McCollum, and Will Barton provide the other shoe in the Lopez-Matthews contract debate. Heretofore if the Blazers spent all their money retaining their starters, no free-agent cavalry would be riding over the hill. If help didn't come from this collection of youngsters, it probably wasn't coming at all.
Extra money opens the prospect of veteran signings in the future. This eases the pressure on the young bench quartet as a group. They no longer comprise the last and only answer short of retooling. Portland could find success independent of them.
At the same time this puts more pressure on the four as individuals. Anyone not proving himself can be replaced...or at least replaced slightly more easily. The $5 million players that Portland might have coveted, but ultimately couldn't afford or attract, this summer could turn into $7-8 million players in coming years. Now the Blazers might have the cash.
This puts a whole new spin on bench improvement. If Portland's starting unit stays tight, talented, and successful the franchise could be sitting pretty, choosing between final pieces of the puzzle instead of praying that T-Rob's jumper holds up and his turnovers stay down.
(Side Note: As long as the players pan out, teams that signed mid-level-exception players to long-term contracts this year did very well.)
5. Paul Allen might finally get repaid for his investment.
Owner Paul Allen and his representatives have made no secret of the money he's sunk into the franchise. For years the rallying call on the business side has been, "Turn a profit!" Even so, progress has been measured by inches and feet, not miles.
Increasing franchise value provides an asterisk to the story. When Allen purchased the team a few million would make you an owner. Nowadays a few million makes you a decent power forward and asking prices for franchises start with a "b".
With ESPN and TNT pouring money into the pockets of owners, Allen should be in position to recoup some of his spent funds annually or, should he choose, command a handsome price for turning over the reins to someone else. Either way, things should come up roses for him...finally.