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What Can the Trail Blazers Do if Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez Leave?

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All the talk so far this summer has centered around LaMarcus Aldridge staying or going. One reader asks what happens with Portland's other two major free agents.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Dave,

With the way the money/bird rights line up I am less fearful of LaMarcus jumping ship as I am of Matthews or mostly Lopez signing with a different team. My first question to you is I am unclear if we resign Aldridge and one of those two what our cap situation would look like. Can we renounce/renounce/renounce others and be under the cap to find a replacement for the lost starter? Second what do you foresee our options being losing one of those starters? Obviously Matthews would be easier to find a serviceable replacement with Afflalo a possible resign, rolling the dice on McCollum or Crabb's development or finding a replacement 3&D SG at the MLE (although no-Matthews would still be a HUGE hit as we saw post Achilles rupture). Lopez seems much harder to replace as I don't think Leonard is worth a full-time starter role at this time, Kamon would barely play under starter minutes as his injuries pile up and it's much more difficult to find a worthy center at the MLE because of the price.

Extra points if you want to further address our options losing BOTH.

Thanks,
Tyson

Trying to guess what will happen in July is beyond any of us at this point. There are too many moving parts on the ledger to speak with any certainty. You might as well slaughter a sheep and read its entrails like the Ancient Etruscans. "Oh look, a purple spleen! Afflalo's opting out! But wait...Kidney stone. Aldridge will join the Mavericks for sure."

Think I'm kidding? Here's the list of decision points:

1. As you've identified, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, and Wesley Matthews will be unrestricted free agents.

2. Arron Afflalo can opt out of the final year of his $7.75 million contract, becoming an unrestricted free agent as well.

3. The Blazers can pay Chris Kaman $5 million to retain his services next season or $1 million to send him packing.

4. Portland can make a 1-year qualifying offer of $3.8 million to Joel Freeland which would send him into restricted free agency. Freeland could end up playing next year at that rate or signing an offer sheet with another team which the Blazers would have the option to match. If the Blazers decline to match the offer or refuse to make the qualifying offer in the first place, Freeland would be off the roster. In other words, he could count $0, $3.8, or $??? against the cap.

5. Like Afflalo, Steve Blake could opt out of the final year of his $2.2 million deal.

6. Dorell Wright and Alonzo Gee are also unrestricted free agents.

7. Allen Crabbe and Tim Frazier have non-guaranteed deals of a little less than $1 million each. The Blazers could keep or cut either.

That's 11 players out of 15 carrying variable cap implications. Technically Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard are eligible for extensions but those wouldn't affect this summer's cap. But if you want to be completely accurate, that makes 13 of 15 players with moving contract parts. Nicolas Batum and CJ McCollum are the only 2 Blazers with static contracts.

In this environment a meteorologist has as good of a chance of forecasting the future as a basketball analyst. This summer will be partly re-signy with a chance of scattered free agency. Dress in layers.

Fortunately today's question narrows down some of the possibilities. In Tyson's construct Aldridge has re-upped, presumably for the max. Either Matthews, Lopez, or both are leaving. That narrows down the major possibilities.

To establish a starting point, let's assume the following:

--Aldridge's salary is $19 million.

--Steve Blake doesn't opt out of his contract. (Because why would he?)

--Arron Afflalo plays out the last year of his contract as well, waiting for next season's TV money to kick in before entering free agency. His salary rounds to $8 million.

--The Blazers like Allen Crabbe enough to pay the $1 million for him.

--The Blazers pay Kaman his guaranteed million and let him go.

--Portland also says goodbye to Wright, Freeland, and Frazier.

That would leave a roster of Aldridge, Batum, Lillard, Afflalo, McCollum, Leonard, Blake, and Crabbe. With those 8 in tow the Blazers' cap obligation would sit somewhere around $52 million. Plus they'd have a salary cap hold of roughly $2 million because they'd be carrying fewer than the roster minimum of 12. This would boost their obligation to $54 million.

Assuming a $67-68 million cap, that'd leave them $13-14 million to dangle in free agency. It's a simplified number but it gives you the general idea.

The Default Scenario: If Afflalo Stays In

You can see right away that Portland won't be replacing both Matthews and Lopez with $13-14 million of cap space. That's not enough to lure a prized free agent but the Blazers might be able to get a second-tier guy, presumably at center if Afflalo has the shooting guard position manned.

The problem is that Portland would have to lose both Matthews and Lopez to generate that much space. If either re-signed with the team, most or all of the available money would be used up in that signing.

Nor can Portland wait to sign incumbent players while wooing outsiders. Matthews and Lopez will carry cap holds of $11 million and $9 million respectively this summer. Those will eat into the $13-14 million of cap space until the Blazers renounce both. The only way to free the money is to bid goodbye to 2 starters.

In case you're not following, here's a simple table illustrating the possibilities:

MatthewsLopezMLE

As you can see, Portland's cap options don't change between the second and third options. Whether they keep one or both, they won't have more than a $5.5 million MLE to spend on other players. Unless the Blazers flat-out don't want one of them, keeping Lopez or Matthews without the other makes no sense under these circumstances.

If Aldridge re-signs and Afflalo doesn't opt out, Portland will almost certainly retain both players or let both go. Given the circumstances, I'm betting they'd keep both. Replacing 2 starters and a mid-level exception with $13-14 million seems like a stretch.

The Big Option: If Arron Afflalo Opts Out

If Afflalo opts out and the Blazers don't wish to bid for his services, their potential cap number goes up to $21-22 million. This is a more interesting scenario.

Keep in mind that we're presuming the Blazers lose Lopez, Kaman, Freeland, Matthews, and Afflalo in order to generate this amount of cap space. With it they'd be able to make a stab at a prime free agent (say, Marc Gasol or DeAndre Jordan) but they'd be hoping McCollum could hold down the shooting guard position and that their bench was solid because they wouldn't have enough left to buy an old shoe after that signing.

Woe be unto Portland if they missed on their big free-agent signing in this scenario. They'd be left holding a bunch of unspent money with no centers or proven shooting guards in tow.

A hybrid approach could also work here. With that much cap space the Blazers could retain either Matthews or Lopez with enough money left over to chase another free agent. They'd have a returning starter at either shooting guard or center and a large hole at the other position. $8-10 million probably isn't enough to fill that hole, but technically they'd have the option to try.

Adding Players Back In

You can take either of the above scenarios and add other players back onto the roster a la carte if you wish. Want to retain Freeland? Subtract $4 million or so from Portland's available cap space. Ditto Chris Kaman. You'll see that the Blazers don't have much wiggle room with these smaller salaries if they wish to retain free-agent signing power.

Conclusion

So what have we learned from this little exercise?

First, LaMarcus Aldridge is the biggest Double-12 Domino imaginable.Add $19 million to any of the above options if he doesn't re-sign with the Blazers. He carries the financial weight of 2-3 other free agents. Plus his talent is significant enough to make the Blazers reconsider the need for Matthews, Lopez, or any other non-rookie-contract player on the roster if Aldridge isn't here.

When you get beyond that, Afflalo's contract is the next crucial decision point. If he's still in, the Blazers don't get enough financial advantage from releasing Matthews and Lopez to make the move practical unless they have a specific, reasonably-priced substitute in mind at center.. But if Afflalo leaves, Portland can potentially chase a max-level free agent if they're willing to sacrifice enough of their current players to do it.

And hey, we haven't even touched trade possibilities here. Now you know what Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts mean when they say, "It's going to to be an interesting summer." Even if the results don't turn out dramatic, the possibilities certainly are.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com  We've got a couple doozies to answer over the next few days. You can also phone in questions to our Podcast Voice Mail Line at 234-738-3394.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge