Every player is tradable in push to cut payroll, new Blazers GM says
Scottie Pippen, gone. Antonio Daniels, gone. Arvydas Sabonis, almost surely gone.
The face of the Trail Blazers has changed dramatically, and there will be more alterations as John Nash warms to the general manager job.
Nash considers every player on the Blazers tradable. He says he will pursue opportunities to make a couple of moves that could give Portland a better chance to win. It's a balancing act because owner Paul Allen's edict to Nash and team President Steve Patterson is to reduce payroll.
'We have a couple of months to improve our roster,' Nash says. 'It is a very difficult challenge to try to maintain or improve the level of competitiveness while streamlining the salaries. But ownership and management want to win games first. My priority is to try to win games and be prudent, too.'
Portland has 10 players under contract at about $69 million in salary for next season: center Dale Davis; forwards Rasheed Wallace, Ruben Patterson, Zach Randolph, Qyntel Woods and Travis Outlaw; and guards Bonzi Wells, Derek Anderson, Damon Stoudamire and Jeff McInnis. The Blazers also have about $14.5 million committed to Shawn Kemp, stemming from their buyout of his contract two years ago. The league's salary cap is expected to be $43.8 million.
Randolph, Wells, Davis, Woods and Outlaw are the least likely to be moved by the start of next season. Wallace, Patterson, Anderson, Stoudamire and McInnis will be the focus of most of Nash's discussions with other general managers, but there's no telling whether any deals will be completed.
If nothing is done, Portland's roster will be pencil-thin in the post, which gives free agent Ruben Boumtje Boumtje an opportunity to earn another contract and meaningful playing time. Coach Maurice Cheeks wants the 7-foot center from Georgetown, an outstanding shot-blocker and solid rebounder, to display more offense during summer league and in fall training camp.
'Will Ruben be able to answer the bell and generate the confidence of the coaches so that he can play backup minutes?' Nash asks. 'That's up to Ruben, but even so, it's likely we will need another big body.'
The best center left on the free-agent market is Indiana's 7-foot Brad Miller. The Pacers, who gave maximum dollars to free agent Jermaine O'Neal and still must pay free agent Reggie Miller, probably can't afford to keep Brad Miller.
The Blazers have talked with Indiana about a sign-and-trade deal for Brad Miller, who averaged 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting. 493 from the floor and .818 from the line last season.
Nash hasn't spoken with Sabonis or his agent, Herb Rudoy, but indications are the 7-3 Lithuanian won't return. Sabonis' contract Ñ two more years at $7 million per season Ñ has an opt-out clause for both the club and player. By Aug. 15, the Blazers must decide whether to commit to Sabonis' salary, use it as trade value or waive the veteran center.
With the remainder of the free-agent center crop undesirable, Nash probably will have to acquire help at the position via the trade route.
Portland could use Sabonis' contract to make a trade work under salary-cap restrictions. For instance, the Pacers could sign Brad Miller and send him to Portland for a first-round draft pick and the rights to Sabonis.
It seems unlikely that would be the best offer for Miller, 27, who is being courted by at least seven teams, including Utah, which tendered a six-year, $52 million proposal Sunday. But there will be other trade scenarios throughout the summer in which Sabonis' contract can be of value to the Blazers.
Notes: With the current roster, the starting lineup probably would be Davis, Wallace, Wells, Anderson and Stoudamire, with Randolph, Patterson, Woods and McInnis vying for backup minutes. Portland is in the market for a fifth guard, preferably someone who could play both the point and shooting guard spots.
Woods, who scored 37 points in Portland's summer league opener, will get every opportunity to show he deserves rotation minutes. 'The door is going to open a little wider for him with Scottie not returning,' Nash says. 'Whether he slips through it or bashes it open is in his hands.'
Pippen, who would have preferred to stay in Portland, got $10 million over the next two seasons from Chicago. San Antonio showed interest but wasn't willing to go as high in salary. The Blazers, concerned about Pippen's advanced age, injury history and willingness to accept a lesser role, made little attempt to sign the veteran.
'The reality of the mission is, it didn't make sense for us to recommit to the extent the Bulls did,' Nash says. 'I feel badly about it because I like the guy so much from afar. I have been told how valuable he was to Portland last season in a leadership capacity.
'When we spoke last Thursday, he wasn't anxious to hear the message I delivered, but he was incredibly professional. I told him there were scenarios where we would want him back, but we probably wouldn't know until September.'
Nash said Chicago GM John Paxson 'had another free agent he was dealing with (actually two: Ira Newble and James Posey) Ñ and that accelerated the situation with Scottie.'
Seattle gave Daniels a three-year, $9 million contract. He would have preferred staying with Portland if playing time had been available. He will compete with Brent Barry and rookie Luke Ridnour in the Seattle backcourt, playing alongside Ray Allen or backing him up.