As announced yesterday, the Blazers are making a bid for the 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Game. This would be a big win for the City of Portland, but it also leads to some philosophical questions.
The 2017 All-Star Game just over two-and-a-half years away. But during that time, every current Blazers starter will be renegotiating their contracts. LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum will be Unrestricted Free Agents for the first time. Damian Lillard will get a new contract, but he will likely negotiate as a Restricted Free Agent in his first post-rookie deal.
Barring surprises, Lillard will likely command a max or near-max offer, with the possibility of a Super Max Contract.
Aldridge will be the simplest contract, since he will almost definitely get a max offer in the open market. As his skill has grown, he's likely one of the NBA's best bargains, so a raise is inevitable. The only question for Portland is whether they give him the extra year.
Lopez may have a contentious negotiation. Skilled centers are always in strong demand, and his profile has risen dramatically after a strong year in Portland and a second-round appearance. A significant raise seems likely.
The recent max contract offer to Gordon Hayward has muddied the waters for the value of Batum. Originally seen as a large contract, he's now seen as, at minimum, fairly valued. He may get a bigger offer on his next contract.
Matthews is a big question mark. There's no way to tell what to expect on the open market, but he's been fair value so far. It's very possible he'll go for the equivalent of the Mid-Level Exception ($5 million/year), but the NBA market is unpredictable, and a larger offer is very possible.
Add this up, and that is a lot of money for a starting lineup in 2017. The NBA is expected to have a significant increase in TV revenue, and this may lead to an accompanying rise in the salary cap. The possible NBPA negotiations (and possible work stoppage) could play a role in the salary cap status as well, but that won't happen until the summer of 2017.
Of course, the Blazers have a number of younger guys on rookie contracts. Meyers Leonard, CJ McCollum, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, and Victor Claver all are burdened by varying sizes of question marks on their backs. Whether due to his own evaluation, or lack of value around the league, Olshey has seemed hesitant to move them. But if they don't improve, Olshey will want to clear those roster spots for other players. On the other hand, significant improvement by any bench player could make one of the starters expendable, as a cheaper player is available to take his role.
Will The Future Mirror The Past:
From the end-of-season roster in 2011, only three players still wear a Blazers jersey: Aldridge, Matthews and Batum. Those were tumultuous times, of course, but turnover is inevitable in the NBA. So it's exceedingly unlikely this team will look the same in 3 years.
For the current team, Blazers GM Neil Olshey has been very conservative about upgrades and trades. He typically looks to grab value while keeping the core intact, as evidenced this summer by simply acquiring two backups to fill out the bench. If he's sold on this core, he'll sell Blazers Owner Paul Allen on paying for them. But in turn, success will need to come. If Lillard's already-classic shot to beat the Houston Rockets is seen as the peak of this team, the GM's work will be seen as a short-term success, but long-term failure. At the minimum, a Western Conference Finals appearance will be in the expectation list.
Your turn. How do you feel about this team's personnel by 2017? Will the starting lineup be intact? Will their combined salaries simply be too expensive to maintain the core? And will any of our current bench still be around by then? Chime in below.