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Can the Portland Trail Blazers Afford to Keep Gerald Henderson?

Portland has a surfeit of shooting guards, all of them playing well. How important is Gerald Henderson to the mix?

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Time for the rare Friday edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag! You're asking questions faster than ever before and we're churning out answers as quickly as we can. If you want to get your own question in the pile, send it to blazersub@gmail.com!

Today we address the single most-asked non-trade-related question from the last two weeks. If you're one of the dozen or so people who have put it out there, consider this yours even if your name isn't on the signature.

Hi Dave,

With Gerald Henderson playing so well lately, is keeping him around an option? I know he is UFA this summer but don't we have his bird rights if we wanted to resign him? I think he's a huge part of our late success.

Andrew

Gerald Henderson is a player. Let's get that out of the way up front. Everybody saw his early-season wobbles, a combination of returning from surgery and adjusting to a new system. He dribbled around in the mid-range, not knowing where to pick up his shots, looking positively un-Portland-ish. He's adjusted now...evidence of smarts and experience. When Henderson pulls up from mid-range its quick, efficient, and a decent complement to the offense instead of a distraction from it. Plus he gets to the rim and shoots threes, making the Stotts offense work for him. He's got more springs than a Simmons Beautyrest. He fits and watching him now is a pleasure. It's easy to see how the narrative has shifted from, "Ugh. Why???" to, "Maybe we should keep him?"

The Blazers wouldn't be poorer having Henderson along for the ride over the next few years but a couple of conditions need to be met in order to make the move practical.

1. He needs to be assured of playing time.

Henderson will become an unrestricted free agent in July. The decision to renew with the Blazers would have to be mutual. He's 28, in the prime of his career. He may want to start. Even if he doesn't insist upon that, he may not want to suit up for a team where CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe rank ahead of him in people's minds, if not in the rotation. If the Blazers trade one of those young shooting guards, the case for Henderson staying becomes stronger. If not he either has to love the city, love the locker room, or believe the Blazers are en route to title contention in the very near future. The chances of any of those convictions seeding strongly in his mind are slim. Opening up Portland's SG position more will be the key to keeping him.

2. The Blazers need to be able to afford him.

I can hear the cry arise. "Are ye daft, ye barnacle-brained git? The team's got more cap space than a hatter's closet! They could afford five Gerald Hendersons and a Moe Harkless besides!"

That's technically true, but the Blazers wouldn't want to do that, which is the point. The issue isn't cost, but opportunity cost.

Henderson's cap hold this summer will weigh in at a relatively modest $9 million. Chances are his final contract figure won't drift too far away from that mark either. But the Blazers can't afford to commit $9 million to maintain a team they could be revolutionizing. If revolutionary opportunities never come about, there might be an argument for keeping Henderson at that price. But they dare not tie up resources in marginal gains (which a third shooting guard would be) then be caught short if and when their big opportunity comes.

Assuming the Blazers retained their four main guards, they'll commit $40 million to their starting frontcourt and could easily sink another $20 million into Henderson and Crabbe. Even with the salary cap soaring to $100 million, that's a steep price to stock just two positions. How do they upgrade, or even fund, a frontcourt with just $40 million remaining?

Nor can the Blazers afford to wait it out. As McCollum and Crabbe age into more expensive contracts, so will the rest of Portland's young players. If they don't spent their $90-100 million to bring on more talent over the next couple years they'll be spending the same amount just to keep the players they already have. Even the most devoted fans would probably admit that the chances of the team becoming title-ready with the current lineup are small. Good playoff opponents will exploit their limitations. The Blazers can retain most, maybe even all, of their significant players if they wish but if they plan to do that, they need to spend money on additions while the incumbent players are still under cheap contracts. That means this summer and next summer, not four years from now.

It seems impossible that the Blazers could be forced to make such decisions when they're historically far under the minimum salary cap boundary but free agent competition will be fierce and salary offers high. Money will disappear quickly. A single max-salary offer will send the team's accountants scrambling to figure out what else they have room to do. Cap holds and contracts like Henderson's will determine the answer.

Since the days of Kevin Pritchard the Blazers have been victims of poor timing: ill-timed injuries, good signings in the wrong seasons, holding expiring contracts when they needed talent and talent when they needed cap space, right down to winning the lottery in the exact year they shouldn't have. If they want to shake out of those doldrums and become more than they've been, they must get the timing right on their next moves. Otherwise they'll be staring at a McCollum-Lillard tandem that's getting stale without ever having fulfilled its promise with one or the other star thinking of moving on for a change. The franchise can't let that happen. They have to be willing to make tough decisions to push the team upward before its "Best By" date arrives. Those decisions may not come right away, but what they do with Henderson this summer may influence what choices they're able to make when they do come.

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We've already donated over 1400 tickets so underprivileged children and youth can see the Portland Trail Blazers face the Sacramento Kings on March 28th. We're trying to get that number to 2000. We give them directly to schools, coaches, counselors, and others who work with kids in need. It makes a huge difference! Can you help out with a ticket or two?

Donating is easy. Just click here and use the promo code:

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Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)

You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.

Also...with 2000 tickets on the horizon we will probably have room to say "yes" to a few more people. We've had requests for entire grade levels at some schools and request from grandmothers who have one grandchild they'd really like to take. We honor those and everything in between. If you work with underprivileged youth or children and would like to request tickets, my e-mail is right below.

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