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The costs of a year in neutral - Pinwheel Empire
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The costs of a year in neutral

submitted 5 years ago by in Rip City

During the 2011 offseason, most opinions on the Blazers moves ranged from luke-cold to luke-warm. None of the moves were super sexy, but they also didn’t go around taking on horrible contracts that would compromise the future for years to come. The critical perspective is probably best summed up by Tim:

Problem is the PG we got is the definition of mediocrity and the move as a whole seems to signal that the Blazers brain trust really thinks they’re close to contending, which is unfortunate at best and shows a concerning level of delusion at worst.

In a vacuum, our roster is probably better and more balanced than it was before the draft but taking a more holistic view, I hate what we just did and where it looks like we’re headed.

While Norsk has a good version at the more charitable view:

They got a valuable rotation guy to use for a year. If it works out (obviously did for Dallas) you are stoked and try to re-sign him to be an age and skill fit with the rest of the core. If it doesn’t, not much is lost for the long term and you look for a new option.

Although they were just talking about the draft, the mentality of supplementing the roster with short-term solutions and eschewing a long term contract with the mid-level exception as well as declining to trade either veteran expiring (Camby and Wallace (I think he’ll excercise his ETO)) indicates that this is something of a wait and see year. If things go well, many of the pieces can be brought back. If not, the Blazers should have plenty of cap space this summer. In addition to Camby, Felton and Wallace coming off the books, Batum is up for RFA and Matthews and Crawford have reasonably tradeable contracts. Thus, 2011-12 is a trial year or something of a free shake, and the real direction of the roster will be determined next summer.

There is no such thing as a free lunch

Although management should be commended for not making any rash decisions to ruin future flexibility, the idea that this year isn’t costing the Blazers anything is incorrect. The Blazers approach to this season is reducing the value of the assets they do have, and in turn causing them to make any decisions this offseason from a weaker position. Additionally, they are using a year from LaMarcus Aldridge’s incredibly team-friendly contract, putting him that much closer to free agency. It’s also not entirely clear to me why there was any need for a year to experiment when this roster is full of known commodities.

Declining value of remaining assets

Although every player on a team-friendly contract, particularly where it’s expiring within a year or two, loses some value each year, the Blazers should be acutely sensitive to this problem. That’s because their inability to draft and develop players over the last three years leaves them with only Nicolas Batum as a productive player on his rookie contract. Despite Elliot Williams oozing potential, there is every chance that lack of opportunities will doom him to bust status, or cause that potential to be fulfilled elsewhere.

As such, there are only two desirable and realistically tradeable (considering LaMarcus Aldridge untouchable) pieces on the roster: Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace. If Gerald is not traded by the deadline, the best chance of getting any value in the trade market from either will be hope some team is dumb enough to trade away multiple picks for Batum in a sign and trade to induce the Blazers not to match. Of course the most likely scenario is that the Blazers retain Batum and Gerald signs a rich deal elsewhere while the Blazers do not get value for him.

Additionally, hanging on to both Wallace and Batum prevents the Blazers from optimizing their on-court contributions. Although they can play together some, it’s not optimal. It forces the Blazers to choose offense over rebounding and defense, and should probably be reserved as a situational lineup as opposed to a staple. Those lineups got slaughtered on the defensive glass against the Mavs, for example.

So hanging on to both Nic and Gerald for this “trial season” compromises their on-court value this season and also makes it unlikely that they will receive much value for whichever player they choose to let go (unless Gerald is traded at the deadline, something that’s admittedly quite possible).

Entering the 2012 offseason in a weaker position

Although I’m not one to put much stock in the cliche about acting vs. reacting, the Blazers have put themselves in a position where some pretty important decisions regarding the future of the franchise will be made based on how other teams value their players. They will doubtless attempt to shop Wallace at the trade deadline, but if there’s no real market for an expiring veteran wing, there’s not way the Blazers let him walk for less then two first round picks.

On the other hand, though the Blazers will surely match any reasonable offer, what about an unreasonable one? By going into the offseason with these issues unresolved, there’s a fair chance that the Blazers will feel they “have” to match even a bad offer for Batum. Feeling an obligation to do something is where bad choices happen in the NBA. Of course, if there’s a nice offer for Wallace, this might all be moot.

Losing a year off LaMarcus’s contract

Whether you think LaMarcus Aldridge is a “franchise player” or not, the fact is his contract is one of the very best values for a non-rookie in the NBA. He’s clearly a max-contract level player making about 3 million a year less than that. Though his contract is long, it’s not indefinite. He has three years left on his contract after this one. Unfortunately, the new CBA prevents him from getting a five year extension if he signs before entering free agency. That means the last year will be full of uncertainty unless the team is clearly headed toward contention. I know Aldridge doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy, but there will be a cloud of uncertainty as that final year approaches. The Blazers are using a year of one of the most valuable assets in the NBA, an underpaid near superstar, to figure out where they want to go.

Was there even an experiment here?

So what on first glance appears to be sort of a risk-free flier on this collection of players actually has a series of costs. I’d like to conclude by asking what exactly we were supposed to learn this year? This is exactly the same team that was dismissed fairly easily by the Mavs in last year’s playoffs (check their fairly comfortable MOV). We got worse at point guard, and retained everybody else. None of these players are improving significantly except possibly Batum (whose ceiling we probably saw in his brief 2010 stint). If the purpose of the 2011 offseason was to stay flexible and take a wait-and-see, I’d like to hear what exactly we were supposed to see.

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