Trail Blazers guard Arron Afflalo will reportedly opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, declining a player option for $7.75 million and making the eight-year veteran an unrestricted free agent.
Afflalo, who turns 30 this October, was acquired by Portland at the trade deadline this past February along with guard Alonzo Gee, in exchange for Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, Victor Claver and the Blazers' 2016 lottery-protected first-round draft pick.
GM Neil Olshey still has the Bird Rights to Afflalo, meaning the team can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him in Portland. However, Afflalo's contract still counts against the Blazers' overall salary cap. His "cap hold" -- the figure that counts against the cap of a player's previous team in an effort to prevent GMs from signing other free agents first to go over the cap, then using Bird Rights to re-sign their own players while capped-out -- sits at about $11.63 million, or 150 percent of his previous year's salary.
The Blazers can still renounce Afflalo, which would wipe his cap hold from the team's books while simultaneously voiding their Bird Rights on him. Olshey could still ink the former UCLA Bruin to a deal as an unrestricted free agent, but would have to operate under the same salary cap restrictions as other teams in order to do so.
What does this mean for Portland? Likely that Afflalo is either seeking a long-term deal with the Blazers or is set to bolt town this July in free agency. Considering his age, skillset and Portland's stacked wing rotation that could include Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, CJ McCollum, Alonzo Gee, Allen Crabbe and potentially a first-round pick or free agent heading into next training camp, Afflalo is likely to seek a deal with another team. Even if he wanted to sign a short-term deal that would allow him to test free agency in the 2016 or 2017 offseason when the incoming television revenue balloons the salary cap, opting out this summer was probably a no-brainer for Afflalo; Portland's depth at his position(s) would have made it difficult for him to showcase himself enough to earn the same amount he could playing for a team with more of a need for an impact wing player.
Afflalo's time in Portland will likely go down as a disappointment for many fans. The 6-foot-5 guard, who's shot 45.3 percent from the field for his career, struggled to find his place in Blazers coach Terry Stotts' rotation. Afflalo shot 40 percent from deep in 25 regular season games for Portland, but that was largely in a catch-and-shoot role that probably didn't fully utilize his talents and he made just 41.4 percent of his field goals, the lowest mark of his career since his 2007-08 rookie season. He averaged 10.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in a Blazers uniform, his worst statistical outputs for a season since 2010. Though he was hurt, Afflalo tanked in three playoff games against the Grizzlies, scoring five total points on 16.7 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent shooting from deep.
Afflalo is a solid, starting-caliber shooting guard in the right system -- which probably isn't in Portland. He needs the ball in his hands to be effective, meaning he'd have a hard time complementing Lillard when sharing the court with him and would take away plenty of touches and playing time from McCollum as a reserve. Olshey and Stotts likely thought Afflalo was the spark off the bench they needed in order to succeed in this past spring's playoffs, but keeping him around now seems like a deterrent to McCollum's development, who emerged in five postseason games against Memphis, averaging 17 points on 47.8 percent shooting both from the field and from outside in 33.2 minutes a night.
If the Blazers do indeed renounce Afflalo's rights, his $11.63 million cap hold comes off the books. Big man Joel Freeland, who doesn't expect a qualifying offer from the team, will likely be renounced as well. Adding up all of Portland's guaranteed contracts for next season (Nic Batum, Lillard, McCollum, Steve Blake and Meyers Leonard) along with cap holds for free agents (Aldridge, Matthews, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Gee) while assuming Crabbe, Frazier and Kaman aren't waived, the Blazers would have roughly $79.8 million in committed salaries heading into free agency this summer.
In the above scenario, Portland would be over the estimated $66.3 million cap for the 2015-16 season but under the $81.6 million luxury tax level, meaning the team could still use its $5.46 million mid-level exception in free agency this offseason. Considering how much talent the Blazers need to inject into their bench unit before next season, that full mid-level exception offers them the flexibility to bring in pricier players.
If you're like many fans in Rip City, though, you're probably lamenting Olshey's trading of the team's 2016 first-rounder (along with Barton, Robinson and Claver) for an unfruitful 25-game rental of Afflalo and a brief look at Gee. However, Portland could still get some value back for Afflalo: if he wishes to sign a three or four-year deal with a team this summer over the salary cap that would be unable to absorb his contract, the Blazers could do a sign-and-trade. Should Olshey find Afflalo desiring a sign-and-trade, he could get a handful of assets in return, which could potentially include a draft pick and somewhere in the ballpark of $10-15 million in salaries, depending on what he signed for.
Afflalo can still be a serious contributor on a good team, it just wasn't likely to happen in Portland. His opting out squarely pegs McCollum into the bench scoring role, where he flourished in last season's playoffs. And ultimately, either the cap space Afflalo provides the team by opting out, or his value in a sign-and-trade should exceed what he would bring to the court for the Blazers if he were to stick around for the short term or otherwise.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter