Time for the Monday Mailbag!
One statement that gets thrown around quite a bit is "Paul Allen is willing to spend", in reference to putting together a winning team. Realistically, I don't see it. Every time free agency rolls around, all we hear is "cap space this" and "cap space that". At what point does he open his wallet, go over the cap, and sign a difference maker or two? In the coming free agencies, who would those difference makers be? With the (fictitious) cap room we'll have next year, what options are out there that would make PA break the seal on the salary cap and maybe just try to stay below the luxury cap?
First off, after a long hiatus it's good to see you "Mikes" and "Michaels" back. For a while you were dominating the Mailbag like no name in history. Then you must have gone off to play minor-league baseball or something because we haven't seen much of you guys. But now you're back!
The cap line isn't as much of an issue for the Blazers as the luxury tax threshold. Everyone will be waiting with baited breath to see where those numbers lie after deals for television rights are re-negotiated. Hanging out over the cap is fine, necessary even. Crossing that tax line is a bad idea unless you're already at a championship level. It limits your trade and signing possibilities in addition to costing a bundle of money: dollars paid out to non-tax teams and dollars forfeited from
other tax-payers the Knicks and Nets.
My hunch is that if Neil Olshey went to Paul Allen and said, "This guy is going to take us over the top," Allen would dish out the money, cap and tax notwithstanding. But I also suspect that would be a job-defining moment for Olshey. If the team didn't contend and Allen got stuck with a high price tag plus a tax burden, eyebrows would raise. Keep in mind that Allen has historically followed the league closely and has his own opinions, so the limb on which Olshey was standing would get thin quickly.
Despite promises and hints, the player worth going out on that limb for just hasn't been there. It's unlikely he'll be there next summer either. The Blazers appear to be taking a SETI-like approach to the issue. They're going to keep the dish array pointed towards outer space and sit someone at the console in case a signal comes through. If that happens between now and next year, they'll be ready to move. If not, the process didn't cost them anything.
You never know what will happen in this league. Look at the Eric Bledsoe situation. He probably doesn't fit Portland's plans but who will the next Bledsoe be? We're not going to know that until it happens.
If the Blazers do find that guy, though, the prospects look better for an in-season or cap-aided summer trade than a free agent signing. Keep an eye on those possibilities too.
Long time listener, first time caller.
I love our starting unit. I love how well they compliment each other on the court and how highly they regard each other off the court. The chemistry shows. Unlike this time last year, I'm feeling pretty safe about us keeping LMA after next summer but that confidence has given way to a new anxiety: Keeping Wes and Robin.
Talent-wise, it's generally accepted that Center and Shooting Guard are the two shallowest positions in the league right now. If Wes and RoLo have even comparable seasons to '13-'14, they'll be in high-demand next free agency period. And while I'm not worried about their love of Portland or the team, if someone offers them an unreasonable amount of money to jump ship it seems they'd be crazy to pass it up, right?
That said, one of the dynamics that I'll be paying attention to in the NBA next season is which teams will be coveting our starting two and five. With the season yet to start, and assuming the two have decent seasons, what teams - aside from the Timberwolves, natch - do you expect to make a pass at our non-LMA free agents?
Predicting what will happen if Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez hit the open market is like reading tea leaves at this point. Neither one has "sit up and take notice" name value but Matthews' brand of basketball is currently en vogue and Lopez has proven his heart, if not his worth, with the Blazers. As you say, shooting guard and center remain positions of need for multiple teams. It only takes one crazy one (looking sidelong at Minnesota here) to skew the market. Will brand loyalty and camaraderie trump dollars? Could the Blazers find a happy medium between the two? Or will the asking price be low enough that they won't have to? Throw in that potential new TV deal we mentioned and the picture gets murkier.
My best guess is that Matthews and Lopez will get nice offers, not over-the-moon ones. They won't lack for employment opportunities but they won't be in the first wave of free agents to be courted either, at least not on the mass market. Unless something goes wacky we'll probably see plenty of mutual decision-making as the year progresses, the Blazers deciding how much they want the pair on a scale from "Must Court Immediately" to "Go Ahead and Test the Waters" with Matthews and Lopez making the same assessments in reverse. Both sides may be depending on external factors (projected market, opportunity cost of signing them) as much as direct assessment.
In any case, neither player is in a position to listen to speeches about austerity measures. Whatever their value is, they're going to get. The only question is whether it'll be from the Blazers or someone else. At this point I'm thinking Blazers, but 82 games remain to change parameters for them and the team.
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