I’m now three days into my RCP career, and so far one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite, parts of the gig is interacting with readers on Twitter. Over the last few days several readers have asked me about Patty Mills’ status with the Blazers, so I figured I’d answer a few questions on here.
Yesterday, the Oregonian’s Joe Freeman reported that the Australian guard, drafted at no. 55 overall out of St. Mary’s in 2009, is not expected to be at the Blazers’ training camp next week. Mills made the team’s roster last year but only appeared in three games over the course of the season, due to both a foot injury that kept him out most of the first half of the season and to the fact that Portland’s roster was already stacked with guards.
After the Blazers drafted two more guards in 2010, Mills’ future with the team became even more unclear. No. 22 overall pick Elliot Williams was guaranteed a contract because he was drafted in the first round, but as Summer League got underway in July there was sort of an unspoken understanding that Mills and Armon Johnson, drafted 34th this year, would be competing for the 15th roster spot. Shortly after Summer League, the team signed Johnson to a contract, effectively killing Mills’ chances at making the regular-season roster.
Before he fractured his foot during Summer League in 2009, several analysts included Mills on their lists of the biggest steals of the draft. His impressive play both at St. Mary’s and with the Australian national team in the 2008 Summer Olympics made him something of a cult hero among hardcore hoops junkies, so there was a higher level of interest in his development than is usual for a late second-round pick. But the sad reality is that the Blazers just don’t have room for him to get significant playing time. Andre Miller isn’t going to lose his starting point-guard job anytime soon, and Nate McMillan and the Blazers’ front office are still very high on Jerryd Bayless’ potential. After that, you have to factor in Johnson and Williams, new free agent signee Wesley Matthews, a seemingly re-committed Rudy Fernandez, and (of course) Brandon Roy. Even if a roster spot somehow opened up for Mills, that’s seven other guards he’d have to compete with for minutes. Since he was apparently not invited to the Blazers’ training camp, he is now free to accept invites from other teams where he might have a better shot at making the roster, or to take a job with a European team, where there has been some interest in him over the summer. It’s probably in his best interests to have these options, rather than accept an invite to camp in Portland where there is clearly not a spot for him.
As for his financial situation, the Blazers do still own his rights as a restricted free agent, meaning they have the right to match any offer made to him by another team. A few readers have asked why the Blazers haven’t renounced his rights if they aren’t planning on re-signing him. The answer to that question probably involves the stockpiling of assets. If Mills signs with a team in Europe, he will join several other players the Blazers currently have stored away overseas, including Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, and Petteri Koponen. If after he plays in Europe for a few years another NBA team shows interest in signing him to a contract, the Blazers will still own his rights and thus be able to leverage that team’s interest into a sign-and-trade deal of some kind. It would be a similar situation to Josh Childress': he wasn’t re-signed by the Hawks in 2008, opting instead to play for the Greek club Olympiacos. Then, this summer, he was dealt from Atlanta to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade that netted the Hawks a second-round draft pick. This is probably what the Blazers are hoping will happen with Mills. He was slowed down by injuries his rookie year in the NBA, but there’s no doubt that he can play and will find success somewhere, be it in the NBA or elsewhere. It just won’t be here.
UPDATE: Ben Golliver of Blazersedge tweeted this afternoon that Rich Cho does, in fact, expect Patty Mills at Blazers training camp next week. I still highly doubt he makes the team, but there you go.