Big Decisions Upcoming For Blazers

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Gotta love the Blazers. For all the management changes and whatnot, they finally have the look of a cohesive and fluid team right now, one that’s a legit contender. LaMarcus Aldridge is almost certainly headed for his first All-Star Game, Jamal Crawford has proven to be a worthy pickup (if not replacement) for retired All-Star Brandon Roy. Nate McMillan is getting it done as a coach again and the Blazers will give Oklahoma City a run for the division title if this keeps up.

I wonder, though, if the good times will last beyond this season. That’s because Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune raised a few good points in recent days. The Blazers will be faced with several major off-season decisions, and while that seems so far into the distance, it’s something for the franchise must consider right now as it takes stock of certain players and how they’re progressing, or not.

At the top of the list, of course, is Greg Oden. If you haven’t noticed, he’s still invisible. And nobody knows if he’ll ever wear a Blazers’ uniform this season or ever again, as Eggers points out:

When I approached the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft in the locker room before Sunday night’s game with Cleveland at the Rose Garden, he told me, “I’m still not talking about it right now.”

Or about anything, I guess.

Since he flew to Vail, Colo., for a meeting with Dr. Richard Steadman — the specialist who performed the surgery — in early December and spoke with The Oregonian’s Jason Quick, Oden hasn’t done any media.

Team trainer Jay Jensen won’t talk about Oden, and interim general manager Chad Buchanan speaks only in vague terms about the oft-injured, oft-maligned would-be player.

I can’t get an answer as to what Steadman and the other medical people saw in Oden’s December MRI that was termed by team president Larry Miller a “setback,” slowing his progress toward a return to on-court duty.

“It wasn’t as encouraging as we’d hoped,” is all Buchanan will say.

One report said the MRI showed a problem area in a non-weight-bearing ligament in the knee, but nobody with the club will confirm that. Oden evidently had no symptoms or anything to cause alarm. What, then, was it?

“I’d prefer not to talk about specifics,” Buchanan says politely.

In reading the story, you don’t get any real sense that Oden’s recovery is around the corner. Maybe he’s coming along fine and the Blazers are downplaying everything about his injury and would rather not raise anybody’s hopes, even Oden’s. Regardless, it’s evident the team has moved on, at least on the court, where Marcus Camby is still yanking down double-doubles at age 39.

And then there’s the sticky situation involving small forwards Gerald Wallace (the starter) and Nic Batum (the reserve). Aside from playing the same position, both are in line for extensions this summer (Wallace can elect not to opt-out and collect roughly $9 million for next season). We do know this: owner Paul Allen won’t throw around big money, not after taking a hard-line stance in the labor talks.

Eggers comes through again with a story about the roster questions, which all seem hazy at best:

But can Portland afford to keep both?

“That’s something you try to do,” coach Nate McMillan says. “We like both. Sometimes things don’t work out because of a situation. The organization has to make a decision, and the player has to make a decision. But there’s no question we want to try and keep both guys.”

The Blazers have until Jan. 25 to extend the rookie contract of Batum, 23, who is making a pro-rated $2.16 million this season and would be due a qualifying offer of $3.17 million as a restricted free agent next season. If the deadline passes without a deal, the Blazers can extend him beginning July 1, match an offer from another team or let him go.

Wallace, 29, is making $9.5 million this season and can opt out of a contract that calls for him to make $9.5 million again next season. The 6-7, 11-year veteran won’t say much about his feelings on the possibility of an opt-out.

While retired guard Brandon Roy’s pay has been erased from the team’s salary-cap hit through amnesty, owner Paul Allen will still get stuck for paying his $16.46 million salary next season.

Beyond that, the Blazers are on the books for certain for about $26 million in guaranteed contracts, mostly from LaMarcus Aldridge ($13.75 million) and Wesley Matthews ($6.5 million). If Wallace doesn’t exercise his opt-out, that’s another $9.5 million. Then there is Jamal Crawford, who would make $5 million if he doesn’t opt out after this season.

Besides Wallace and Batum, the Blazers also must decide if they want to re-sign starters Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby – each on the last year of his contract – and Greg Oden. None of those players will come cheap.

When you’re looking at a salary cap and luxury tax that are expected to be near what they are this season – $58 million and $70 million – the room can get eaten up quickly.

It’s an interesting situation because Wallace has been beastly for Portland this season while the Blazers have invested so much time developing Batum, whom they acquired on Draft night in 2008 in a trade. Clearly, Wallace is the better player, but he’ll also command a higher salary. With Crawford all but certain to opt-out and Felton an unrestricted free agent this summer, Portland will either open the checkbook or watch a few players walk.

It all begins with Oden. What the Blazers decide to do with their brittle big man might impact all other decisions. Somewhere, somebody will take a risk on Oden, if only for the short term. And you know if he miraculously heals and becomes a monster on a another team, it will eat away at Portland. But in this case, maybe the Blazers can’t be faulted for taking that chance. They’ve done everything they could with Oden.

19 Comments

  1. JackAll says:

    IF KEVIN DURANT PLAYED HERE? ALONGSIDE LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE AND B-ROY 3 or 4 years ago? HE MAYBE HAS A RING RIGHT NOW.

  2. Celticsrck says:

    Portland is amazing…Lamarcus should be an all star

  3. NBAer says:

    Oden doesn’t heal… the B-Roy – Oden – Aldridge project is over… Let Oden and Crawford walk, keep Wallace and Batum. They can develop Batum into a SG-SF player that would receive major minutes behind Wallace and Wes. The league is loaded with PG’s right now (both vets and young ones), so hopefully they’d be able to resign Felton at the right price, or let him go if he wants more.

    Been a Blazer fan since BRoy came in (and during the time Pippen was there). Shouldve been the team challenging LA these past 4-5 years. but it didnt happen. time to move on. Go Blazers!!!

  4. Brett says:

    Whatever the truth about Drexler, he already had become a franchise player and everyone knew how good he was once the Blazers traded him. I think the point here was more about trading a young unproven player – and appear to have given up on him – just to have him explode into a star elsewhere, making the Blazers look stupid. Drexler’s trade doesn’t fit that script.

    As for Paul’s willingness to spend, it will depend on how this team does this year, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

  5. shhh says:

    no he wasn’t, he was sidekick to hakeem.

  6. 8boll says:

    portland must be so mad they took oden over durant

  7. jer says:

    a very difficult situation. I suppose a lot of will deal with how this team does this year. Say what you want, but a lot of teams around the league respect our roster. If we do contend, expect Paul All to find a way to keep his team competitive. In most scenarios in the NBA, teams studded with stars, oft over the cap, win rings. That’s not Mr. Allen’s philosophy, and coming from a billionaire, you have to respect that. As I am sure Buchanan would address, this season is about now, not next year or who is who, better or younger or otherwise. Hoping to see a good year from 2 of my favorite NBA players, Batum and Wallace. After all the Portland fans have been through, most of us just want to see great basketball from a healthy team. Is that so much to ask? We can never be complacent in our gratuity for what guys like Mathews and Aldridge have done, or even Roy for that matter. As for Oden, call me crazy, but you never want to stop beleiving in a story like him. He has done nothing to lose our respect other than get hurt and you in all honesty can’t truly blame him for that. Sure, we all see what Durant has done, and most of us respect him a LOT, but most fans would love to see Oden come back and contribute. He doesn’t deserve all the riff raff and negativity he gets, on the other side, it’s tough for fans. Rip City is a great place to play ball, and who doesn’t want to play with guys like Aldridge and Mathews? Trust me, Portland fans count their blessings and will continue to.

  8. ollie boombayay says:

    I’m fairly certain you are incorrect on several things in this blog post. 1. Didn’t Roy retire and not get “amnestied”? If he did retire due to medical reasons wouldn’t most of his salary be covered by NBA insurance policy? 2. Jamal Crawford most certainly will come back. He signed with Portland at a discounted rate to be close to his NW roots of Seattle. He fits in nicely, why would he leave after one year? 3. Greg Oden is an afterthought at this point. he will be lucky to play again and if he does he will not be the same player. Nobody comes back from those type of injuries at 100%. Rolling the dice with a few mil. offer is not that big of an impact. 4. “We do know this: owner Paul Allen won’t throw around big money, not after taking a hard-line stance in the labor talks.” Obviously you have not followed Paul Allen. He’s spends money like I drink water. Things that were said during labor talks are like things that happen in Vegas… they stay in Vegas. I think the success of this current squad will determine how much he invests. If they go deep into the playoffs he’ll spend what is necessary to keep the core intact.

  9. rhipcity says:

    Clyde left, and got a ring.
    Rasheed Left, and go a ring….

    you tryna say clyde wasnt a franchise player in houston?

    you lost your damn mind son.. LOST.

  10. Nate says:

    In addition to O’Neal, the late Drazen Petrovic fits the bill.

  11. Brett says:

    Camby is 37. It’s Kurt Thomas who is 39.

  12. elennebe says:

    Jermaine O’Neal?

  13. Jesse says:

    If Wallace or Batum exit the Rose Garden, I am gonna have a jersey to hang on the wall either way.

  14. Sea Pea says:

    Let them walk… No Portland player has ever left Portland for another team and turned into a franchise player. Not Never….
    Why? Because The Blazers overate their players. Just a fact