Today the Blazer's Edge Mailbag tackles a new twist on an oft-repeated question. If you've got a Portland Trail Blazers related query, send it along to email@example.com like Taylor did and we'll try to get to it,
I pose this to you, as I'm only a Blazers and Ducks football fan; and thus, am ignorant about the rest of sports.
The most frequent explanation for top free agents passing on signing with Portland is either 1) the weather or 2) the it's 'remoteness' from the rest of the country - or 3) both. Question: Do the Seattle Seahawks and Mariners have the same problem and, if so, are they given the same excuses? My point being that Seattle has similar weather and is even more to the NW corner than PDX!
Taylor In FL
I'm not exactly a multi-sport guru but I can offer easy and immediate perspective on the difference between the NBA's free agency dance and that of the two other major sports.
Major League Baseball lacks a salary cap. Free agency is driven by money. Teams that spend it (think Cubs, Tigers, Red Sox this year, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels in other years) tend to get the talent. The Seattle Mariners have an on-again, off-again approach to free agency. They're able to get free agents when they spend. They don't have a New York track record of big-name signings, but they've snagged guys like Bret Boone, Felix Hernandez, and Edgar Martinez over the years. The Blazers have gotten guys like Andre Miller, Brian Grant, Wesley Matthews, and Rod Strickland. They seem roughly comparable though the two systems are different. Calling it "success" would be reaching, but it's not failure either.
Free agency in the NFL isn't comparable to the NBA. They deal with a salary cap but franchises have means to protect their best players. It's a "draft and develop" league and the biggest stars seldom hit the market. The big free agency bonanza actually comes with undrafted players...all but unheard of in basketball. With 22 players taking the field on any given play, the impact of each individual is lessened correspondingly. A single free agent can turn the fortunes of an NBA team. That doesn't happen much in the NFL. To compare the Trail Blazers' and Seahawks' free agency success, one first has to ask whether it's as big of a priority for Seattle as Portland. The answer is no.
Having said that, I've heard the weather argument, the "Northwest Corner" argument, explanations about income taxes, and discussion of race when discussing Portland's free agency woes. All of them carry weight, mileage varying depending on the individual player. Anyone who would play in Minnesota's snow should have no trouble with Portland's rain. Guys with their hearts set on Phoenix's desert sun probably wouldn't list the Rose City as their first choice.
You can be sure that if the current free agent drought continues, these explanations will be repeated whenever a change in management occurs. It's an easy excuse. "We tried and we're really, really good executives, honest! But, you know...Portland. Free agents just don't want to come."
Sorry. Too easy.
When I hear these explanations I'm reminded of the guy who shows up to dates unshowered, in sweats, and expecting the other party to pay because he's "between jobs right now". When he gets dumped he says, "She just doesn't like like guys with my hair color. It's totally shallow but what can you do?" Technically he may be correct. She may not be predisposed towards his shade of locks. If he were Zac Efron, it wouldn't matter if his hair were red, tan, or purple. Heck...if he had a job and practiced semi-decent hygiene he probably would have gotten a different reception, hair color or no.
All of those weather-related free-agency explanations amount to hair color excuses. Here's the "didn't shower" side of Portland's situation. They won 44 games last season. That's not enough. They've been in turmoil for most of the last five years. That's not good. There's no iron-clad, definitive plan going forward. Up until this year the byword was "flexibility". Now it's a moot point because the team's in tax territory.
Other teams have track records. Other teams have pitches. The Blazers haven't been able to sell either.
As I've said before when answering this question, if Portland had Golden State's roster heading into this summer, they would have had zero trouble signing Kevin Durant...the ultra-prime free agent on the market in this, or any other, year. Rain would not matter. Taxes would not matter. KD would be wearing red and black, heading down to Kassab Jewelers to get his ring size checked. If the Blazers had San Antonio's history they'd have a better shot. They don't. They have 44 wins and nary a soul above 6 years of experience.
You can't come in second place in a free agent race and get your man, let alone be the 12th best team in the league. For a team in Portland's position 12th is pretty decent, but free agents aren't fans. They aren't predisposed towards logos or teams that play outside of their hometowns. If you're standing 12th in line on Black Friday and Wal-Mart only has three Tickle-Me-Cabbage-Patch Dolls, you're going home with Plan B at best. If you want the prize. you've either got to get their earlier or talk faster. The Blazers have done neither. That's why they spend more time (and have more success) selling their supporters that their signings are great than selling free agents that Portland is a viable place to play.
We can blame the lack of free agents on the weather, the moon, or proximity to potential volcanoes. Until the Blazers become really good--or at least can demonstrate a clear, inarguable path to getting there--they're not going to look any different to high-quality free agents than a host of other teams. That'll remain true even if global warming dries up the drizzle and tectonic plates shift Oregon into the middle of the country.
Thanks for the question all the way from Florida, Taylor. Everybody else, don't forget to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!