Here we are again, Portland Trail Blazers fans. Sitting through the start of another promising season in 2013-2014. Every year, predictions come out and we all listen to the radio and our loved/hated radio personalities as well as talk shows around the television. Whereas many fans I know are talking about this 2013-2014 season and what it could or should bring, I feel the need to inform them to not look short term and actually look somewhat longer term into the Blazers future, which is where the 2015-2016 season comes into focus.
What is the most significant thing that has happened to the Blazers from last year? It is not getting help for the bench. It was not the renaming of the Rose Garden to the Moda Center. It obviously did not happen on draft night, which I am still waiting to wake up from. I loved the days of KP (Kevin Pritchard) and all the wheeling and dealing, it was exciting to hear what was going on. I loved KP and still do. He’s now working Indiana and obviously doing a fantastic job there as well. I would actually have to argue that the most important thing that happened during the offseason was the Blazers organization falling from the #8 highest payroll in 2012-13 to now #22 in 2013-14. Another important fact is that based on our current roster, we will be about the same in 2014-15, right around #22 again, give or take a couple spots up or down.
With our current roster, which could always see improvements, you must admire the talent we have for what we are paying. The largest contract is obviously LaMarcus Aldridge at around $14 million this year. Right below him is Nicolas Batum at almost $11 million. After these top two players we drop down to $6.8 with Wesley Matthews and so on and so forth. So what are my expectations for this year? Improve in 2013-14 and improve in 2014-15, but I have no focus on playoffs and championships. One of the largest and most complicated discussions will start near the trade deadline of 2014-15. The reason for this is because in 2015-16, we have 2 guaranteed contracts on the book. That’s right, two: Nicolas Batum and Allen Crabbe. There are 4 team option players (Thomas Robinson, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Meyers Leonard). I expect us to pick up Lillard and McCollum for sure. Then there are 2 player options out there with Victor Claver and Will Barton … both are alright players, but there will not be any hearts broken if they look for better deals somewhere else and I expect them to do so.
Now for 2015-16 we essentially then have $19 million of payroll (assuming we keep the two guaranteed contracts as well as pick up Lillard and McCollum), giving us A TON OF CAP SPACE. So many questions, concerns, hopes, and dreams will begin. I have lived in the Portland metro area all my life and expect this time to be one of the most exciting times in Blazers history. It’s definitely a time to start brainstorming now and think about how we want to shape this team for the foreseeable future.
Does Aldridge want to re-sign and do we want him for what we would have to pay for? If you ask me, I would say that Aldridge is not going to get any better. He is almost All-Star material, but I just don’t see the drive and determination for him to take the lead. Aldridge is best served as a second and dependable option. He played some of his best basketball, in my opinion, when he played along side Brandon Roy. We are starting to see the same thing now as he plays alongside Damian Lillard. If we want Aldridge to stay we will have to pay him at least what he is getting now, $15M… is that worth it to you? Or would you rather spend that on someone younger to play alongside Lillard as a great second option. Just to give you a few possibilities of who could be available: Carlos Boozer, David West, Derrick Williams, Anthony Davis, Paul Millsap … all viable options … and those are just PF free agents, just think about what is possible with a trade near the deadline in 2014-15 for anyone else. I am sure there will be takers on an Aldridge expiring contract.
We’ve been missing a true good center for a long time. We could buy someone good, like Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Al Jefferson, and the list goes on and on. Just like I mentioned above, something near the trade deadline could happen and is probably our best option.
My point is Blazers fans, although you may want to seem hopeful for this season, your time will be better spent looking down the road a few years in 2015-16 and what the possibilities could be. Focus on just improving players and coaching in these next two seasons. It is too wild to think about making a run for the championship in our current state. I am not even worried about making the playoffs. I just want to see our current players that we know are going to be here long term improve.