John Canzano, that most polarizing of Portland sports media figures, has made waves over the last few days with a report that cites a “consulting surgeon” with knowledge of Brandon Roy’s knee situation as saying that Roy has, at most, one to two years left as a high-level professional basketball player. If true, this does, of course, radically alter the Trail Blazers’ long-term outlook, given not only Roy’s immense on-court value to the team when healthy, but also the five-year max deal Kevin Pritchard gave him in the summer of 2009.
Besides possibly constituting a massive HIPAA violation on the part of this consulting surgeon, this report has also re-raised questions about that contract. Since it became clear earlier this season that Roy’s knees are in far worse condition than anyone had previously thought, it has been suggested not only by Canzano but also by Bill Simmons and other prominent NBA writers that it was irresponsible of Portland’s front office to give Roy a max deal in the first place. It’s not just in the media that this sentiment is growing: I’ve seen it on Twitter and in the comment sections of several well-known NBA blogs. I’ve even seen it suggested that part of the reason Pritchard was fired last summer was because he gave Roy over $80 million in guaranteed money knowing full well that his knees wouldn’t be up to the job.
Let’s back up here for a second. Should the Blazer management, knowing what they knew about Roy’s knees, have attempted to put some kind of safeguard, be it a team option or some kind of injury-based escape clause, in the contract? Probably. But think back two summers. The Blazers were coming off a 54-win season and their first playoff appearance in six years, and this newfound success was due in large part to Roy, who elevated his game in 2008-09 to another level from his already-impressive first two seasons. There was a strong case to be made that he was, at that point, the second-best shooting guard in the Western Conference, next to only Kobe Bryant. He made his second consecutive All-Star game, and was viewed by an ever-growing section of the media and general public as a guy who would soon become one of the top 10 or 15 players in the league.
Beyond that, he was (and is), by all accounts, a model teammate and citizen. There was no reason whatsoever for an up-and-coming team like Portland to hesitate at building around this guy. There were a few guys in the league you’d take over him as your franchise player, but not many. So when it came time to negotiate an extension to Roy’s rookie contract, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be worth a max deal. In fact, there was considerable uproar among Blazers fans because Pritchard and Paul Allen didn’t get this deal done immediately. How quickly we forget that it took a good month and a half of the summer before the Blazers and Roy agreed to terms, a period during which Brandon voiced his frustration with the negotiations on the radio several times and raised questions in the media (led, of course, by Canzano) as to whether Portland would let its franchise player get away.
The conversation about how the Blazers can move forward without banking on Roy’s long-term health and ability to contribute is a perfectly legitimate one to have. But it should never be questioned that including him in the team’s plans was the right move in the first place.