As we saw at Media Day yesterday (and have discussed on-site all summer) the Portland Trail Blazers can't start their 2014-15 season without the specter of next summer rearing its head. After this campaign is finished LaMarcus Aldridge will likely get a max contract from the Blazers. Nicolas Batum is already making more than $12 million per season and Damian Lillard's price tag is rising. That puts pressure on the front office to allocate their other resources effectively.
No matter which way you slice it, two players remain in the crosshairs when this subject comes up. This week's Blazer's Edge panel takes a look at how important Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are to the team and what it will take to retain those two players.
Sam Tongue | @SamTongue
This question is definitely looking ahead... but judging from Media Day, this is really one of the main questions that's on everyone's mind.
I think the exact numbers that I would be "comfortable" with is difficult to project. Where the rubber hits the road is whether each of these guys is the proper fit for the team moving forward. At this point, both are on very reasonable contracts (especially when you consider someone like Jodie Meeks just signed a three-year, $19 million contract over the summer). Knowing that, even with the cap figure increasing year over year -- and potentially quite a bit more after a new television deal is done -- you have to think that players in general are going to command higher prices than ever.
You also have to take into account the current roster construction: LaMarcus Aldridge is due for a max extension at the end of the year (pending he signs it), Damian Lillard could command a "super max" contract extension if he makes another All-NBA Team, and Nicolas Batum is already an eight-figure salary guy. When you start to add up those eight-figure guys, the overall cap space available gets eaten up quickly.
Which gets to the final point: Whatever the price is on Lopez or Matthews, it will likely be too high to keep both. Matthews has shown how lethal his outside game is, especially in combination with his defense. Lopez is a seven-footer that can crash the offensive glass, play some defense, and make his free throws. Both have value in the current NBA.
This upcoming season will likely be an audition for who can play alongside the alpha dogs the best, and the other will probably part ways. There's too much money elsewhere to keep the entire ship afloat as it stands now.
Scott Horlbeck | @scott_horlbeck
Here's the real question -- is Lopez's art collection part of this negotiation? Because if it is, we may need to go back to Olshey and ask for a few more dollars. I mean, dude is over here drawing portraits of Emmy Rossum like he's Jack Dawson in Titanic. That type of swag warrants at least $7 million a year. You know what, I think we have the next Bachelor on our hands. Screw Farmer Chris, we want ROLO!
Wes on the other hand can thank "Daddy Swag" for his recent 4-year, $21 million deal, because if Nick Young is worth $5+ million a year, Wes is worth AT LEAST $8 million. In fact, that should be his agent's pitch in the contract negotiation meeting: "A guy named Swaggy P is making $5 million. $5 million."
Evans Clinchy | @evansclinchy
At this very moment, the Blazers can proudly say one thing they have going for them is continuity. It's not easy to make the playoffs and promptly return all five starters for the following season -- no personnel moves, no injuries, just the same lineup back and raring to go for another year. But the Blazers also know that continuity is fleeting in today's NBA. Savor it now, because it might be gone later.
The summer of 2015 is going to be a big one for the Blazers. Of course, the headliner will be LaMarcus Aldridge, who is set to become a free agent next year and is sure to command a max extension. As a nine-year veteran, he'll be entitled to 30 percent of Portland's total cap figure, which could easily put him over $18 million. The team will also face a November 2015 deadline to tack on extra years beyond Damian Lillard's rookie deal, so he'll be looking to reel in $15 million per year of his own. Add in the existing $12 million that Nicolas Batum's already making, and that's $45 million for three guys.
Where does that leave Matthews and Lopez? I'd love to give them $9 million a year each, but I don't see it happening. Once Lillard starts making big-boy money, the Blazers' cap sheet will begin to look like that of a typical superteam -- top-heavy, skewed toward the three best buys. That puts the other two starters in a precarious spot.
I think the Blazers will try to negotiate Matthews down to about $8 million a year and Lopez to about $7 million. It wouldn't shock me if one or both players bucked at the lowball offer, forcing Neil Olshey either to rebuild in the draft or sign bargain-bin guys to fill out his rotation. The triumvirate of Aldridge/Lillard/Batum has a very bright future in Portland, but it comes at a cost -- the team may not be able to afford its brilliant supporting cast for the long haul.
Chris Lucia | @ChrisLucia_BE
Like Evans said, continuity from year to year in professional sports is difficult to maintain. Frankly, I think it's worth paying what the market dictates to keep Matthews and Lopez around long-term if it's reasonable. How much is reasonable, though, and what are those two players worth on the open market?
I think it's too early to put a firm price tag on either, considering the expected salary cap changes coming up. Right now if Matthews and Lopez were to fetch, say, $10 million each under current conditions, you might let them go. With an increased salary cap, that might be the going rate for serviceable, starting players at their respective positions.
If I had to ballpark what I think they're worth, I would say Matthews tops out at about $9 million, while Lopez could command a little more. Neither is worth what top-tier players at their positions earn, but they both should get better offers than what they're currently making.
This is a really early estimate and could completely go out the window, though, as we'll be waiting to hear more about the NBA's salary cap going forward. Stay tuned.
The more I think about this, the more I think the answer is $5 million or $15 million and nothing in between. Ok, maybe not five, but it sounded good.
In door number one, the Blazers build on last year improving their defense and finding their depth. They may not win the title, or even make the conference finals because the West is ridiculous, but they stand toe to toe with the three elite teams of the conference. It's clear the Blazers have a legitimate chance at the title for the next four-ish years if they keep the crew together. If that happens, I'll go as high as the mid-teens without even blinking -- for both guys.
Before you accuse me of irresponsibly spending someone else's money, hear me out. Last year, if Wesley had made $8M and Robin $10M, I would've felt those were fair deals (see: Gordon Hayward $15M/yr, Marcin Gortat $12M/yr). Wings and Centers just get paid, period. That corresponds to $11.7M and $14.7M if we assume the same ratio under a $85M cap when the new TV deal hits. Those numbers look ridiculous because our context has been a relatively low salary cap the past few seasons. Olshey talked about the market adjusting to the new cap at media day yesterday. Wesley and Robin will be interesting case studies for that.
Of course the luxury tax is an issue. For my TV deal analysis, I projected Wesley at $8M and Robin at $12M (what I hope they sign at). Going up to $12M and $15M increases the projected tax bill from $30M to $50M in 2018. Again, this sounds absurd but the Blazers made money after last year after you factor in luxury tax payments (per Grantland memo) and McGowan just stated the Blazers project to be in the black independently by next year. The new TV deal is like a $35M windfall for each team plus the Blazers will renegotiate their own TV contract. All that extra revenue will offset most of the luxury tax bill requiring Allen to simply make up the difference with his own money. That's a reasonable ask for one of the richest owners in sports who has a history of paying for contending teams.
If the league keeps growing like it's projected, we all need to start preparing for drastically different salary conversations.
The other door is much more depressing. The team fails to progress and seems to have hit its ceiling. At that point, a major shakeup is needed and Wesley and Robin, along with the young guys, become "assets" again. Past about $7-9M and I probably prefer to set myself up for ludicrous cap space in 2016 and more minutes for the young guns.
Here's hoping for door number one and Allen's continued generosity.
For Matthews, his defensive skills are prized, but his offensive skills may be underestimated. His 6.3 offensive win shares last season were third best on the team behind Damian Lillard and Robin Lopez. He can be a streaky shooter, but when hot is one of the best marksmen in the league. His contributions are hard to measure traditionally, so finding a price point for him is just hard.
I would say a 4-year deal in the range of $36 million would be best. Matthews unfortunately is not a $12 million a year player. But $9 million per season would be a raise on his current salary, while keeping an amount of flexibility.
For Lopez, the Blazers need to see if he can repeat his stellar performance from last season. If that Robin Lopez is for real, a 3-year, $20 million deal would be called for. Regardless, anything more than $8 million a season is too much.
Sagar Trika | @BlazersBySagar
There are too many variables to put a price on either Matthews or Lopez. Given this being contract years for both, their performances this year will be paramount in determining how much they will make per year as a part of their next contract.
The TV deal is also a big variable, but for the sake of simplicity, lets ignore that for just a minute. The shallowness at the shooting guard and center positions will also create a slight increase in the two salaries. Not taking the upcoming TV deal into account, I think $9 million per year and $8 million per year for Matthews and Lopez respectively are fair deals.
Factoring the TV deals obviously creates a spike in salaries league-wide. If we assume the salary after the TV deal is Willy's suggestion of $85 million, the scaled salaries are $12.1 million and $10.8 million annually for Matthews and Lopez respectively. Anytime a player's salary after scaling for the new TV deal is lower than Gordon Hayward's $15.8 million per year before the scale, I'm happy.
How much do you think Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are worth? Weigh in below.