Now that Greg Oden has suffered yet another season-ending knee injury, it's natural to wonder whether he has any sort of future as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. By the end of the this season, Oden will have played in just 82 out of a possible 328 games in his career. Will the Blazers move on and cut their losses with him?
The answer is: we don't know. In Wednesday's press conference, general manager Rich Cho said this about Oden's future, via Blazers Edge.
"Greg is still a part of the team. He is going to be a restricted free agent this summer. I expect him to be a part of the team. He will be restricted, he will be able to look at other teams. As Jay mentioned, his right knee came out strong. If you ask Greg, his knee that he had microfracture surgery on is stronger than it was before he had microfracture surgery on it. So we expect him to still come back."
However, there are many complications at play here.
As Cho said, Oden is a restricted free agent next summer. The Blazers could have given Oden an early extension this summer, but naturally, they elected not to because of his injury history. (In fact, only five players: Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Jared Dudley, Al Horford and Mike Conley, got extensions). By not giving Oden the extension, the Blazers allowed Oden to hit restricted free agency next summer.
But in order for Oden to become a restricted free agent, the Blazers must pick up his qualifying offer. The qualifying offer is essentially a proxy salary for the next season that acts as a last resort contract. If no other team comes forward with a contract offer, and if the current team cannot reach an agreement on a long-term contract, the player takes the qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent the next year. Normally, picking up the qualfying offer is a formality, because it's not for all that much money.
However, because Oden is a former number one pick, his qualifying offer is extremely high. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, a player's salary in his first four years in the league, as well as his fifth-year qualifying offer, is based on draft position. A player taken with the number one pick has a much higher rookie-contract salary than a player taken with the 22nd overall pick. Oden's qualifying offer for next year, according to Sham Sports, is for $8.8 million. Given Oden's injury history, it's likely no team, especially the Blazers, will offer him a long-term contract. That means that, if he were to stay with the Blazers, it's highly likely he'd have to do it on that $8.8 million qualifying offer. That's a large chunk of change for any player, much less one with Oden's injury history.
That's probably why Blazers Edge posted this tweet last night.
Given size of qualifying offer & recovery timeline for microfracture surgery, there's a decent chance Greg Oden is done as a Blazer
That's also why many rival executives told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com the same thing.
"No way," one executive told CBSSports.com. "Tough situation."
Another exec, conceding that Oden's qualifying offer is an "enormous number," said, "I think there's a chance that they won't."
The possibility of a hard salary cap in the new CBA throws doubt into Oden's future as well. If the NBA does adopt a hard cap, the Blazers would suddenly need to cut some salary. The Blazers already have just over $53 million committed next season to Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Luke Babbitt and Elliot Williams. Andre Miller has a $7.8 million partially-guaranteed contract, but you'd think the Blazers would want him back. That pushes their payroll to $61 million, when the cap is probably going to come in the $55 million range. Save for renegotiation of players' existing contracts, there doesn't appear to be much room for Oden's $8.8 million salary.
So as sad as it is, we may have seen Oden in a Blazers uniform for the last time. Perhaps the Blazers give Oden the qualifying offer as a measure of goodwill, but that's an expensive form of goodwill. There's an equally great chance that they decide keeping Oden around just isn't fiscally prudent.