Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NBA Preview: Northwest Expenditure

With the Greg Oden knee blitzkrieg coming out, the Trail Blazers are once again the story of the NBA, as they have been for much of the offseason. While it does seem pretty sucky for Mr. Oden, who Jack ominously compared with Brad Daugherty yesterday, and who I will presently compare to Bill Walton, please shed only crocodile tears for the Blazers.

My dissatisfaction with the Blazers has to do with their profligate spending. In many ways Paul Allen is the George Steinbrenner of the NBA, without the championship rings. Who can forget his quasi all-star team of 2000, which would have won it all except for choking in game seven against the Lakers? Allen has never been a frugal owner. But it's only in the last few years that he has really gotten my goad.

That's because Allen and his management staff have done some stupendously dumb things with their payroll recently. It is only luck that has made them darlings of many of the mainstream media. The first thing that pissed me off was Allen's refusal to trade Darius Miles to the Knicks. When you get a chance to dump Miles and his huge contract you don't think twice - as good as he was in The Perfect Score, Darius has been nothing short of a bust since he entered the NBA as the next big thing in 2000. It was indefensible not to get rid of him and his cancerous contract (which still has three years and $26 million left on it.) Miles, of course, hardly played last year after having micro-fracture surgery, and at best he is only an adequate player when healthy.

The Miles non-deal was horrific. Less bad, but subtlety irritating, was Portland's trade with our beloved C's on draft day 2006. This was GM Kevin Pritchard's "brilliant" deal that landed him Brandon Roy with the draft pick he received from the C's. Less brilliant was the bloat that came with Roy - Raef Lafrentz and Dan Dickau. Raef's contract looked like shit when we got it from Dallas in 2003, and it still looks like shit today. There are two more years and $24.5 million left on that puppy. That's a lot of money for a player who is worthless for you on the floor. While I love Roy, acquiring the girth of Raef's contract was a hell of a collateral. So I can't laud Pritchard for this deal, although the Ratliff contract he dispensed with was also bad. What bothers me is how people glaze over the fact that the Blazers had to take LaFrentz to make the trade happen - and that seems to be exactly what Allen and Pritchard want. They aren't afraid to eat money to save face.

And that was never more true than this summer. After luck hit them again by winning the lottery (I also consider it luck that other teams were stupid enough to pass on Roy the year before), Portland proceeded to do one of the silliest draft night trades in recent memory. Jack touched all these bases last week, but I'd like to expound on some of these points from the Blazers perspective. You trade Z-Bo, who was one of the league's twenty best players last year, for Channing Frye and Stevie Francis. You then proceed to buyout Francis for $30 million dollars. Whaaaa???

So you get Channing fucking Frye for Z-Bo? I don't care how insane Randolph is, you ought to be able to at least get something positive by trading him. A decent player and $30 million in dead money is getting fleeced on a grand scale. I mean, what a terrible fucking transaction for Portland. The Blazers never should have done it. Between Raef and Stevie you now have $55 million in bullshit salary over the next two years. And you can't even trade Stevie's away, it's locked in. Jesus almighty...

So Portland, in short, is lucky and rich. I can think of no other owner who would so ably consent in acquiring so much crappy money on the payroll. If Portland played their cards right with Z-Bo, and actually figured out what the market was for him, they could be good immediately. Instead, we are all ready hearing Nate McMillan say that the Blazers might not be as good as last year.

I just don't like Portland's smugness with their money, they seem oafish to me, and are fortunate to have an owner whose bankroll can easily conceal this. Their northwest counterpart is almost the opposite. God knows where the Supersonics will be in two years. GM Sam Presti has literally no fan optimism around him, the inverse of Portland. The fans who should be excited about Durant are all too pissed at the owners to care. So instead of wasting money and still being crappy, like Portland has done, Presti decided to blow up the ship. Gone is Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. In their place comes youth and cap flexibility. Seattle has attractive expiring or near expiring deals (Wally, Kurt Thomas and Chris Wilcox) and tons of young talent and future picks. So that means Presti can do anything - he has so much flexibility that it is hard to say what he will do, but it seems bound to succeed.

In the meantime, Seattle will suck. Presti won't say it overtly, and neither will P.J. Carlesimo, but the implications are clear. And I think that's fine - because it is understood that Presti and Carleismo are doing everything in their power to make this a championship club in an intelligent manner. With Durant and all the pieces they have it should be sooner than later.

In conclusion, imagine if Sam Presti and Kevin Pritchard switched places. Portland would certainly be a playoff team immediately. The Sonics would still have Ray Allen, probably Rashard Lewis, and zero cap flexibility. Portland and Seattle's payrolls look about the same, but don't be deceived - there are two totally different modes of thought going on in the GM's office, as well as two appreciably fucked up ownership situations.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.


Tim said...

Soon the Sonicscould be in Oklahoma City, or Las Vegas for that matter. Personally, I really hope they stay in Seattle. The team for OKC was the Hornets, who never belonged in New Orleans in the first place. The Supersonics, on the other hand, belong in Seattle - they have heritage, a fan base, and an exciting team. The fans shouldn't be punished for having owners who are hijackers.

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