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Evaluating John Canzano’s Column About the Trail Blazers Lease, Potential Sale

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Blazers fans fear any hint of the team moving. How likely is that?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Today John Canzano of The Oregonian published a column about the potential sale of the Portland Trail Blazers. It centered around an interview with Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who indicated that he expects the Portland Trail Blazers to be sold at “some point”. Fish also told Canzano that he’s been told former owner Paul Allen’s estate will take “about five to six years to be settled.”

The article has caused quite a stir, raising concerns about relocation. Fish himself acknowledges the topic of the team possibly moving:

“It’s a huge wildcard and it reminds us we can’t take anything for granted in the Rose Quarter,” Fish said. “We have to do everything we can to make clear to a future owner that we want the Trail Blazers to stay here. It casts a shadow over development plans in the Rose Quarter and puts a cloud over a future owner of the team.”

Despite nervous conversation surrounding the column, few negative takeaways emerged. It states that an Portland City Commissioner is concerned about the potential of the Blazers moving, and it does provide some insight into a possible time frame for sale to a new owner. Nothing in the article indicates the intentions of Jody Allen (who is currently running Paul’s estate), the league, or future owners.

We asked Managing Editor Dave Deckard a few questions about Canzano’s column and the team’s future.

Does the article reveal anything that makes a sale more likely or imminent?

The article opens with Fish expressing concern that the team “will be sold”. No specific timeline was attached to that concern.

The eventuality was discussed long before Paul Allen’s death, with sister (and heir) Jody typically described as disinterested in owning the franchise. A sale was assumed. So far Jody appears to have taken an active ownership role. Despite that, a future sale is still presumed. It would be more surprising to hear someone say the Blazers would not be put on the market.

Nothing said by Fish or Canzano indicates that a sale is more or less likely than it was yesterday, or at any time since Paul Allen’s passing. Smart money says the team will be sold at some point. We don’t know the timetable.

Is the 5-6 year timeline solid?

The 5-6 year span mentioned in the article was linked to two things: the amount of time it takes to settle a large estate and the expiration of the Blazers’ lease at Moda Center. As anyone who’s been through the estate process knows, the former number is variable. Nor are the two processes (estate and lease) intrinsically linked. The estate could take that long to settle. If so, that would coincide with lease negotiations. If the estate resolves earlier or later, it won’t.

Are concerns legitimate?

In a general sense, yes. Arenas provide serious leverage for the league and its franchises to extract money out of their municipalities. When those dollars don’t materialize, teams threaten to move. Canzano quotes Fish acknowledging this:

“The current lease with the Blazers is very favorable to the city,” Fish said. “I would expect the renegotiation of that lease to be more challenging.”

Those negotiations will be intense no matter who owns the team, even if it stays under the Allen umbrella. New owners would feel added pressure to extract the most possible return on their investment, but Vulcan Inc. isn’t in business to leave money on the table either.

That said, moving the Blazers will likely be a last resort for all parties involved. Canzano’s article details some of the reasons Portland is a viable NBA town. Those won’t change in five years.

Is this the last, or best, word?

While interesting, this discussion is preliminary. Words shared with a City Commissioner, even if 100% on the up and up, are subject to change as circumstances change. The situation could end up just as Canzano chronicles and Fish fears. It could also go any number of other ways. There are too many variables involved—shifting currents of ownership, lease trends, team performance, league proclivities, and governmental priorities—to be certain.

I’m not a government official. If you asked me if the team was likely to be sold, I’d say yes. If you asked whether, in my darkest dreams, changing ownership brings up the specter of the team moving, I’d also say yes. Is the worst-case scenario likely, though? Probably not.

Canzano’s article certainly described some of these fears and issues. It did not resolve any of them. It serves well enough as a cautionary read. It’s not a reason for panic.