Marcus Camby injuring his ankle last night in New Jersey — by the way, he’s played less than 60 games five times in his career, and never the full 82 — has everyone thinking about Portland centers again. On the national level there’s some curse talk, which you can safely say “Bah, humbug” to without worrying about visits from various ghouls tonight. But it does get Greg Oden’s name popping up all around, and there’s something to start thinking about with him.
Next Fall, when he is hopefully full healthy and ready to stomp all over the Japanese countryside, Oden will be entering the same stage of his career — minus a heft sum of games — that Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were in this season. That means he will be a season away from restricted free agency, and eligible for a contract extension. I think it’s safe to say, based on the Roy and Aldridge negotiations a few months ago, that Kevin Pritchard isn’t going to just roll over for guys he knows are cornerstones. That’s good.
As long as Oden is playing come training camp, I also don’t think there is any chance that the Blazers let him reach summer. The longer he plays, the higher is value is going to get — that 23.4 PER was no fluke — and even if he didn’t have a great season, someone is always going to raise the bid on the chance to get a young, talented center. The Blazers would certainly have to match an inflated offer from another franchise. They could also extend the qualifying offer of $8.8 million, but that gives Oden another season to build value heading into unrestricted free agency. None of those are winning solutions.
Now, and this is complete and utter speculation, I would be surprised if Oden actively wanted to leave the Blazers. He has a good situation with the team and has probably developed some strong bonds with people (not exactly players) in the franchise during some tough times. His agent will try to get him the best possible contract, but to say Oden will actively try to get out of Portland would be a massive assumption, much more so than the assumptions I just made in the two sentences prior to this.
What does that leave us with in the Fall? A hugely talented franchise player who has missed two full season’s worth of games, that probably wants to stay a Blazer, talking with management about an extension. That sounds like a perfect situation for a discount. Oden’s agent will probably want to start things in the area of Aldridge’s five-year $65 million dollar extension, but the Blazers will be able to point directly to former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani’s five-year, $50 million extension, start talking about health, and the price could/should steadily shrink. Does Oden for $10 million a year through 2015-16 sound good to you?
This is a silver lining to the knee injury, sure, but financial flexibility always helps, even if we don’t yet know what the CBA and Salary Cap will look like in two years. But the more huge, long-term contracts you can avoid during a year of league uncertainty, the better, and though signing a player with Oden’s history to a long-term deal is an obvious risk, it’s one the Blazers absolutely must, and will, take.