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Arron Afflalo Faces a Big Decision

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Arron Afflalo can opt out of his contract or hold on and wait for a bigger payday next year. What factors will contribute to his decision? What path will favor the Trail Blazers most?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hi Dave,

I wanted to seek your input and expertise on Arron Afflalo. While I've never been a huge fan, i still believe he could be an outstanding bench player for the Blazers and think his short time here is largely judged unfairly. With Wes' injury, numerous shuffles in the rotation, and even Afflalo himself trying to play with one arm, we never got an accurate look at his value.

Looking at this from his point of view, would it make financial sense for him to pick up his player option year and then become a free agent the following season when the cap rises, or would the potential benefits with waiting be stunted due to his length of service or other factors?

I'm wondering if his opting out this year may not be as automatic as some think. Isn't his opinion for 7M+?

Thank you for your time. I enjoy your work.

Patrick

Here's the story of Arron Afflalo's transition to the Portland Trail Blazers last year:

--He was traded mid-season to a new team with a completely different system.

--He was expected to step in immediately as the key bench scorer. He was touted as a defensive stalwart, able to take the team from "almost there" to the next level. These assessments may have been optimistic.

--Exactly 2 weeks after the trade Wesley Matthews went down and Afflalo became a member of the starting lineup, a different role and responsibility yet.

--19 games later he suffered a shoulder strain which kept him out of action for the remainder of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs.

--He returned during the post-season to play hurt against one of the best defensive teams in the league. As his team crumbled around him, he averaged 1.7 points per game on 17% shooting.

I'd say it's a safe bet that we haven't seen the best of Arron Afflalo in Portland. Judging him by his 3-month tenure here would be a mistake.

But I'm not sure that Afflalo's career progression justified the expectations that came along with his acquisition. The buzz surrounding the deal was just as much about Portland's needs and history as about Afflalo's ability.

For years Blazers fans have been waiting for "The Move", the moment the franchise decided to sacrifice cap flexibility and youth in favor of veteran bench help to put the team over the top. For the most part short-term, value-based summer signings were all they got.

Afflalo was different. He was a mid-season pick-up. The Blazers traded away young players and a future first-rounder to get him. His contract was short but the team would presumably offer him a longer-term deal in the future. If this wasn't "The Move" it was as close as the Blazers had gotten in Neil Olshey's tenure.

The storybook ending would be Afflalo scoring like gangbusters for an impoverished bench, keeping defensive continuity going while Matthews rested, and taking the Blazers a round or two further than they would have gotten with Will Barton and Thomas Robinson in the rotation.

The problem is, Afflalo wasn't "The Move" material. He never has been. He can be valuable, but Portland will need more to take the next step.

Afflalo's career numbers read like a blueberry muffin: isolated bursts of juicy goodness surrounded by plenty of decent, but nondescript, dough. He had a fantastic shooting season in 2010-11, firing 50% from the field and 42% from the arc for an amazing .620 True Shooting Percentage. His scoring peaked in 2013-14 at 18 ppg and 19 per-36. He shot an amazing 62.5% from the field and 43% from distance in Denver's first-round loss to the Utah Jazz in the 2010 playoffs. But he's never been able to sustain his peak numbers. Nor is he an assist guy or a rebounder. He doesn't force steals and he's not been that great of a defender despite his reported inclination and obvious physical gifts. His plus-minus numbers haven't been good since he left Denver for Orlando in 2012, his Win Shares aren't anything to write home about, and his PER has never topped 16 in his career.

(A PER of 15 indicates an average player. To be fair, Matthews just crested 16 for the first time this season but his career has been shorter, his other numbers have been better, and he's hung around the vicinity more than Afflalo has.)

In no way is this assessment meant to dog on Afflalo. When he was acquired I claimed that he was a pretty good player and this was an OK move. There's just a world of difference between "OK move" and "The Move". That's the point.

Any proposed Afflalo-Trail Blazers marriage must also face stylistic hurdles. Afflalo has the right skill set for Portland's system but he's not used to playing Blazers basketball. Portland wants their guards and small forwards to score from beyond the arc or at the cup, not so much in between. This table shows the percentage of total shot attempts of each guard or small forward from Portland's favored distances this year:

ShotSelectionGuards

Even if we factor out the games Afflalo played for the Nuggets, his combined "Blazer Spots" attempt percentage only rises to .541, well below every guard or small forward save McCollum. Afflalo has the toolkit to make a transition to a "three-or-layup" offense but it isn't how he's used to playing and it isn't how he became a starter in this league.

Speaking of...Afflalo hasn't come off the bench regularly since his second season, 2008-09. He hasn't played fewer than 32 minutes per game since 2009-10. He averaged 30 for the Blazers but Matthews' injury increased his workload exponentially. Positing a healthy Matthews and emerging McCollum leaves far less opportunity for Afflalo.

The stylistic issues aren't all on Afflalo's side either. The Trail Blazers will need to ask whether their most pressing weakness is shooting guard and whether it can be filled by a scorer who needs minutes, touches, and a new contract to be happy. A year ago all signs were pointing in that direction. After what we saw from Matthews in the regular season and McCollum in the playoffs, maybe not.

The question here isn't whether Arron Afflalo is a good player, it's whether Arron Afflalo is the right player for the Blazers heading into 2015-16 (and maybe further if he opts out).

This brings us around to the contract portion of your query. Afflalo has the choice to play out the last year of a $7.75 million deal. If he opts out he'll become an unrestricted free agent. He needs to make that decision by June 29th. The NBA's new fiscal year begins July 1st.

Had everything gone according to the Dream Plan, we'd just barely be talking about the Blazers exiting the playoffs right now. Even with only half a season under his belt, Afflalo would be tabbed as a major reason for Portland's success  His value to the Blazers would be established and his future here secured. Likely he'd be opting out. The Blazers would use Bird Rights to re-sign him to a comfortable contract. They wouldn't worry about the cap implications because they'd be re-signing a ton of other players too. They'd be over the cap next season, depending on the influx of TV money the season after to make their payroll look reasonable.

Since 0% of that dream scenario actually happened, this summer's decisions get more complex for Afflalo and the team.

Afflalo could gain a couple obvious advantages by playing out his current contract. The rising tide of broadcast revenue should lift all boats next summer. Whether he's perceived as a starter or great 6th Man, he'd be in line for a tidy payday. But the amount of his deal wouldn't depend on his spectacular talent as much as the going rate for decent starters and 6th Men. Since that number will be higher next year than this. postponing free agency would make sense.

The current perception of Afflalo's value might encourage him to stick with his deal as well. He's not on a career upswing and his time in Portland didn't change that. Negotiating a new contract near the nadir of your production is counter-intuitive. Playing another year hoping to rehabilitate numbers and reputation makes sense. Claiming you were a key cog on a successful playoff team in 2016 would be a stronger bargaining point than exiting your 3rd stint with an unsuccessful franchise over the last 2 years, which is pretty much what Afflalo is facing if he hits the open market today..

But Afflalo has to assess whether his final year in Portland would make him a key cog or just an afterthought. If he becomes a free agent now he can point to injuries and adjustments dragging down the end of his season. He still has a reputation as a starting guard, a scorer, and in some corners a good defender. If he gets edged out by Matthews and McCollum next year, ends up languishing on the bench, and his stats get even worse, he becomes a 30-year-old player who's fallen off the radar. At that point it won't matter what the new cap level soars to, Afflalo couldn't expect to get a bigger piece of the pie than he's got right now. If he doesn't think the Blazers will play or commit to him, he needs to leave now.

As you can see, neither route is automatic. Afflalo's decision depends on what the Blazers do around him, which in turn determines how they plan to feature him. Nor is the decision to re-sign Afflalo automatic for the Blazers if he does opt out. As we detailed yesterday, Afflalo's contract is one of the significant moving pieces in Portland's summer puzzle. The cap room it represents becomes less significant if the Blazers re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, and Matthews--he should be an almost automatic re-sign at that point--but short of that his money could be in play.

The ideal solution to this mess may be one we haven't mentioned yet: Afflalo staying with his contract but getting traded to a team that could use him more. This could potentially put him back in a starting role and allow him to develop a solid track record heading into the Summer of 2016. If they're ready to ride with McCollum as a back-up scoring guard, this option might also work for the Blazers...especially if they can get back the first-round pick they spent to get Afflalo in the first place.

Thanks for the question, Patrick! If you've got a Mailbag question, do what Patrick did and send it to blazersub@gmail.com. Or you can call in to our Podcast Voice Mail Line at 234-738-3394.

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