State of the Cap: Portland Trailblazers

Sat, 08/27/2011 - 6:36pm

2011/12 Payroll: $66.3 million
2011/12 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $54 million
Roughly: $12.3 million over cap

LaMarcus AldridgeLaMarcus AldridgeHighlights: This used to be Brandon Roy’s team, but injuries to Roy opened the door for LaMarcus Aldridge to take over, and he certainly did. Aldridge continued his ascent this season, averaging 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1 steal per game. He also shot 50% from the field, which is excellent considering he took by far the most shot attempts of any Blazer this season. Aldridge was the main reason Portland hung on for the sixth seed in the playoffs despite the absence of Roy. He has a pretty large contract that totals $54.1 million over the next four years. However, if he can keep up those kinds of numbers for the duration of the deal, it will be well worth it. Aldridge was nearly an All-Star last season and it appears likely he will get there very soon.

It was somewhat of a surprise last summer when the Blazers gave $33.4 million over 5 years to Wesley Matthews, an undrafted player who averaged 9.4 points a game in his one season with the Jazz. His first year could have been a fluke season for Matthews, but he easily proved he was worth that kind of dough. Matthews was second on the team in scoring at 15.9 per game and he shot an awesome 40.7% from downtown. He is the rare three-point specialist who can also score in other ways as well, making him much more valuable than players like Kyle Korver. Portland seems to have found a gem in Matthews, they just need to hope they can find him enough minutes once Roy returns to his full playing duty (if that happens).

Lowlights: Speaking of Roy, the Blazers thought they had a Dwayne Wade type of player to build their team around. It certainly appeared that way when he was putting up over 20 points and 5 assists per game and hitting big shots for them in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, injuries have hobbled Roy the past two seasons to the point that he might never return to the player he used to be. He came back towards the end of the year but only played sparingly. The team desperately needs Roy to get healthy and become a monster again, mainly because they’ll be paying him a TON of money for a while. The next two years, Roy will pocket $14.9 and $16.3 million, then the year after that he has a $17.7 million player option. Instead of Dwayne Wade, Portland may have a Gilbert Arenas on their hands eating up a hefty chunk of their salary cap space without the production to warrant the cost.

Veteran Marcus Camby is still around and amazingly he will still cash a check in the neighborhood of $9 million dollars next season. Sure, he became usable after Greg Oden went down again and he did average 10.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, but Camby was absolutely dismal on the offensive end. His 4.7 scoring average was a career low, as was his horrible 39.8% shooting from the field. That isn’t exactly the kind of percentage you are looking for from your center. Camby has his uses, but he would just be a lot better if his price tag was cut in half.

Greg Oden’s career with the Trailblazers has likely come to a close. At first glance, this might seem like a good thing considering he played just 82 games over four years. However, his failure will loom like a shadow over this franchise for years to come. Remember, this is the same club that is still smarting over the Sam Bowie pick, and now they have to watch Kevin Durant throw this one in their faces for the next ten years. Oden is a free agent and its possible he could return, I just don’t see why Portland would do it. If they signed him again, another injury would be even more added embarrassment. It would be better for both parties to cut ties. After all, Oden is only 23 and his big body and potential will certainly entice some team to give him too much money, something the Blazers wouldn’t want to pay anyway. It is time to move on from this forgettable chapter in team history.

The Future: During the season, Portland was able to turn Joel Przybilla, two first round picks, and some leftovers into Gerald Wallace by trading with Charlotte. Wallace probably makes a little too much money at $10.6 million for next season and $11.4 million after that in a player option. However, any time you can turn supporting pieces into a player of Wallace’s caliber, it’s a good trade. Wallace can really fill up a box score and he is one of the best rebounding small forwards in the league. In his stint as a Blazer, he scored 15.8 points per game, grabbed 7.6 rebounds, averaged 2 steals, and shot nearly 50% from the field. Wallace is an excellent 3 and fits well within the team.

Another trade occurred this off-season when Portland sent veteran Andre Miller and a draft pick to Denver for veteran Raymond Felton. The salaries were basically the same since Felton only has one year left on his deal for $7.5 million, but this was a slight upgrade for the Blazers. Felton is six years younger than Miller and he shot 45% from the three point line as a Nugget, which means he should be able to help spread the floor a lot better. It will be interesting to see how Felton meshes with this team.

The main focal point for Portland’s future still resides in the health of Brandon Roy. If he can’t return to full strength, this will be nothing more than a high-priced team that can’t get out of the first round. Another area of need is at center. Camby is too old and Oden either won’t be back or won’t be healthy enough, or effective enough, to be the answer. A few years ago, the future looked so amazingly bright for this franchise with a core of Roy, Oden, and Aldridge. Surprisingly, its Aldridge that may be the only one to live up to his potential. Injuries are normally nothing but bad luck. As Portland has shown in the past, they’ve had more than their fair share of it.

Grade: C+

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