GM John Nash finds long-term contracts detrimental to trades
Trade Rasheed Wallace. Waive Bonzi Wells. Get rid of Ruben Patterson by any means possible.
Trail Blazer management has heard hundreds of such suggestions/requests/demands/threats from fans eager to dump the ringleaders of the team's 'Jail Blazer' image.
It's not so easy.
New President Steve Patterson and General Manager John Nash can't just blow up the Blazer squad and start over.
In a trade, the total salaries of the players involved must be within 15 percent of each other, plus $100,000.
For instance, Wallace makes $17 million this season. For Nash to trade the veteran forward alone, the Blazers would have to take back a player or players whose aggregate salary is between $14.35 million and $19.65 million.
An added caveat: Wallace is in the final year of his contract. Blazer management is reluctant to trade him for a player or players with multiple years remaining. Taking on a large, multiyear contract can hamper a team's ability to acquire other players in the future. The pacts of Ruben Patterson and Derek Anderson do just that.
Portland's player salary total last season was $105 million, an NBA record. The league's 'soft' salary cap was $40.3 million. The luxury tax threshold was $52.9 million, meaning that any team over that amount in player salaries was obligated to pay the difference dollar for dollar, with the money distributed to the teams under the threshold. The Blazers' luxury tax last season: $52 million, give or take a nickel.
Owner Paul Allen has begun an austerity program. That doesn't mean the billionaire will pinch pennies when it comes to acquiring players. Still, Allen wants to adhere to a budget, just as teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio have done on their way to NBA championships.
'What we would like to be able to do is retain salary cap flexibility in the future, so we don't do something today that is going to prevent us two years from now from having the opportunity to be involved in free agency,' Nash says. 'What we don't want to do is trade any of our current short-term contracts for long-term deals that would put us out of the game.
'In this economic environment, every team is trying to avoid the luxury tax. I don't know our ambition is to avoid the luxury tax as much as it is to be able to be a player in free agency, but the two go hand in hand.'
With Scottie Pippen ($19.7 million), Arvydas Sabonis ($7 million) and Antonio Daniels ($3 million) departed, Portland's salary obligations this season are in the neighborhood of $81 million. The salary cap is expected to be set at about $43.8 million, the luxury tax threshold at $55.4 million. That means Allen will be billed for about $25 million in luxury taxes at the end of the season.
As of now, Portland is committed to about $49 million in salaries next season and less than $20 million for 2005-06.
But there is a balancing act. For instance, if Wallace signs with another team as a free agent, it would save the Blazers about $34 million Ñ $17 million in salary, $17 million in luxury tax Ñ and increase their flexibility. They would be minus a high-caliber player, but with Zach Randolph ensconced as the team's chief inside threat, it may be a move the Blazers choose to make.
'Getting nothing is sometimes better than not getting something you don't want,' Nash says. 'To avoid acquiring a player with issues or a contract that takes you well into the future, sometimes isn't as bad as it looks.'
After the 2004-05 season, Portland would have the opportunity to allow Wells and Damon Stoudamire to walk, without compensation. But the Blazers don't want to let talent get away without something in return, or eventually the team's performance will suffer because of it.
'It is a delicate balance,' Nash acknowledges. 'I'm not sure in the final analysis which is going to be more important Ñ cost efficiency or amassing talent. It's not that Paul Allen is hovering over us, telling us to watch the budget. It's Steve and myself who have to sit on Paul.
'Early last summer, the juices were flowing, and we were shooting e-mails back and forth, talking about free agents such as Stephen Jackson who were available. Jackson is a good player with value, and we decided that acquiring him might have an impact on Qyntel Woods' development in a negative way. We wanted to take a look at our players first before we made any rash decisions.
'The competitive nature of the owner Ñ and all of us, really Ñ is, we want to win games, period. The mission is to continue to win but (also) to get this shop in order. Many of the other good teams in the league have won in fiscally responsible fashion. The reality is, throwing money at problems doesn't necessarily cure them.'
Rose Garden attendance is at an all-time low, and the Blazers run the risk of losing more fans if they aren't competitive. Twenty-one straight years in the playoffs have made Portland followers come to expect a run in the postseason.
A warning to fans who have been asking for a complete makeover: Careful what you ask for. If the Blazers take a serious tumble in the standings this season, management may be moved to gut the roster and start over.
'If we can't extend our successful tradition, that is an option,' Nash says. 'Nobody wants to rip this apart today, but if we were unable to succeed with this group, the community has been suggesting it would like to see a new, exciting group of players.
'We are reluctant to go down that path, and we think we have the core group of a young, talented team, but we will see.'