The Portland Trail Blazers are in a real mess with Brandon Roy, and it's one that you can't really pin on the franchise. By the summer of 2009, Roy had a R.O.Y. and two All-Star Games under his belt ... three years into his career. He'd just hit the All-NBA second team, no small feat for a guard. (His teammates on the second team: Yao, Duncan, CP3 and Paul Pierce. Not bad company.) Roy was the prototypical max player: he had been wildly successful, his team was on the rise and nothing off the court raised any alarms.
Flip it the other way: if Roy hadn't been offered a max contract extension, fans would have burned the Rose Garden to the ground. (You think that's an exaggeration. I'm not sure.) The Blazers eventually did fork over the cash: Roy signed a five-year, $82 million deal that would go into effect for the 2010-11 season. Roy's running mate and fellow 2006 draftee LaMarcus Aldridge was still blossoming at the time, and ended up with a five-year, $65 million extension.
In the 2009-10, the final year of Roy's rookie deal, things began to unravel. Roy tore his meniscus a week before the playoffs were to start; he had quick surgery and got back in time for Game 4 of Portland's first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns. And the disconnect set in: while the world (Portland included) sat bug-eyed at Roy's amazing comeback, the reality of the situation was that he was not fit to perform. His 30 percent shooting from the floor in the series' final three games indicates that. The Blazers faced elimination in Game 6, and Nate McMillan put Roy in the starting five. Roy ended up shooting 4-16 as the Portland offense fell apart, and the Blazers got bounced.
This is the story that repeated itself in 2010-11: Roy's knees were limiting his explosiveness and in-game stamina, and eventually surgery was required. Instead of allowing the knees to fully recuperate after surgery, he returned after five weeks. In 24 games after the double knee surgery, he shot just 40 percent from the floor, 31 percent from beyond the arc and still continued to shoot as if he was playing at an All-Star level.
This is the Brandon Roy that we think now exists: a former star who is still young but who is no longer capable of playing at the level he thinks he can play at. It's not that Roy was delusional last season -- he talked openly about changing his game, his offensive plan of attack to account for a lack of explosiveness. But that was only part of the problem. Roy had no interest or ability to decrease his offensive load. He was stuck on All-Star level in terms of usage, but far, far below that in conversion.
Given those repeat knee problems, there's no doubt that Roy's contract is troubling. Any team would be considering amnesty to clear the cap hit over the next four seasons. He's still owed $64 million; while the team would be forking out that much whether it uses the amnesty clause on Roy or not, the cap space is just mammoth. That's basically an entire max player you can fit under the cap or luxury tax line, basically (even if Portland's commitments wouldn't allow them to get under the cap for a couple years).
Any team would be considering amnesty in this case, and Portland has reportedly decided to use the provision on Roy. Roy is understandably a fan favorite in Portland; consider the darkness that preceded his arrival in Rip City, and how quickly he brought the team back on his back. Here's Dave Deckard of Blazer's Edge on what Roy meant and means:
Roy symbolized so much for this team in his short tenure. He was the embodiment of the 2006 resurrection. He was the face of the post-Jailblazer renewal. He was the hope of a new generation, not just for decency but for greatness. The game-winner against Houston, the quarter against Dallas, the performances against Phoenix ... these are historical events every bit as memorable as those provided by Drexler, Porter, and Lucas. When's the last time you heard opponents scream about a Blazer, "Keep the ball away from him!!!" in last-second situations? Roy made big shots seem like sure things. He's been easy to like, easy to root for. What more could you possibly have asked from a young player?
It is in that context that, upon learning that Roy would likely be waived, fans began to rail against the team. The pro-Roy forces were so virulent that they smoked Paul Allen, the silent assassin of the NBA owner ranks, to say something. It continues, and if the team does waive Roy, it will be a loud and angry day in Portland.
The Blazers know how most fans feel. I'm sure that Larry Miller, Allen's deputy, understands where fans are coming from as much as he understands the cold reality of Roy's cost and production. Maybe I give Miller and Allen too much credit, but I'd believe there is even true empathy there: remember, the guys who cut the checks are fans, too. But the difference between Miller's position and the position of fans is that Miller has a responsibility to those fans to do what is best for the championship hopes of the team within the parameters Allen has set forth. If Allen says that he needs to avoid the repeater tax down the road, that's a factor in a Roy decision. If Allen says that the team cannot afford to add a player with the mid-level exception at the current salary level, that's a factor.
And Miller answers to Allen, not the fans, not sentiment. That's why a comment like this from Miller on what would go into a Roy amnesty decision, however empty it may be, is a bit alarming.
We're going to look at every factor involved including the fan factor. For us to say, 'Hey we're just going to do this and not consider how the fans feel about it, how the community feels about it' -- we're going to look at all of that.
Teams have to respect fans; when they don't, they wade into dangerous waters. They are the customers, after all. But those fans aren't responsible for the future of the team. Most of those fans, I fear, aren't taking the nuanced, full-bodied look at the entire Roy situation that one would hope Miller and company are. Many are acting on the sort of emotion Deckard describes: a visceral love from what Roy stood for.
But beautiful memories don't score 20 a game, and neither does Roy at this point. I imagine Miller's talk about the "fan factor" was hot air. Frankly, even though I root for a team that I wish respected fans a little more, I hope it's hot air. Building a team based on the fleeting whims of fans is fraught with peril; instead, Portland needs to build its team while respecting its fans' opposition to otherwise perfectly sensible moves. That respect can be manifested in honesty, explanation and understanding when they jeer. But it doesn't need to include a transfer of power to the angry mob.
The problem is that Allen is questioned at every step after that Adrian Wojnarowski piece from the lockout. Woj wrote that Allen was looking to shrink payroll to prep the franchise for a sale; the billionaire had lost interest in basketball and Portland, and was looking to unload as much as possible to draw a profit on the transaction. (In the mean time, he was busy helping continue the lockout by essentially being a dick at the negotiating table.) Fans saw that, and they see the Roy amnesty talk, and it is impossible to separate the two when the emotion is so raw, the heartstrings so frayed. Every move -- minor or major -- that the Blazers make now will be seen, for a sizable contingent of fans, through the prism of "Paul Allen: Sandbagger." Trust me: it happened in Sacramento as soon as the Maloofs' flirtation with Anaheim and bankruptcy (in that order) became official. The Kings could sign Tyson Chandler and a set of otherwise reasonable fans (myself included) would be waving red flags about the L.A. connection.
That's why this situation is such a mess for the Blazers: fans have lost faith in the franchise's leadership to do the right thing by fans, and the franchise's leadership is about to make a necessary, painful decision that would anger any fan base. So Portland will have the pleasure of dealing with fans who would be angry with the Roy decision even if someone as saintly as Nicolas Batum ran the team, in addition to dealing with reasonable fans who understand the rationale for waiving Roy but so completely mistrust Allen that they are angered by the circumstances that result in waiving Roy.
Basically, Paul Allen's ability to be wholly unlikable has sunk the Blazers' chances of coming out of this disaster relatively unscathed. All that can save the team's popularity now is the team's popularity, which is to say this regrettable episode can only be subsumed in the future thanks to the immense loyalty of the city and its residents, the charm of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Batum, and the allure of beating those f--king Lakers in the playoffs.
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