A look at Portland's offseason contract decisions

The Blazers’ season ended last week, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less to talk about going forward. If you’re still looking for a team to cheer for in the rest of the playoffs, Mike’s got you covered. We’ll have plenty of season-in-review stuff in the coming weeks, but right now, I’d like to take a look at Portland’s roster going forward. Talking about free agency or potential trades seems premature right now, given that nobody has any idea what the new CBA will look like and how that will affect teams’ salary-cap situations. There are, however, a handful of Blazers players that Rich Cho will need to make a decision about this summer. There are no outright unrestricted free agents to decide whether to bring back, but qualifying offers, extensions, and team options for various players will be in play.

Andre Miller’s $7.8 Million Club Option

The Blazers shopped the veteran point guard aggressively at February’s trade deadline, and likely would have shipped Miller to New Jersey for Devin Harris had Deron Williams not fallen into Mikhail Prokhorov’s lap. Cho has been vague in recent days about whether he plans to pick up Miller’s option for the 2011-12 season, but in my mind, it’s a lock. Why wouldn’t they? Patty Mills and Armon Johnson are both under contract next year, and while both have shown flashes of potential, neither has been impressive enough to be penciled in as a long-term replacement for Miller at point guard. Miller’s age makes it unlikely the team views him as the mythical “point guard of the future,” but Dre was exceedingly solid for a second straight year in Portland. His value as a trade chip at next year’s deadline won’t decline—if anything, it might be higher, because a lower post-lockout salary cap will make his $7.8 million a larger percentage of payroll coming off the books. It’s hard to think they won’t be able to flip him either this offseason or at the 2012 deadline for something of value. And if they can’t, they’ll get one more solid year out of Miller before going another direction in the 2012 offseason, and I’m pretty okay with that.

Nicolas Batum’s Extendable Rookie Contract

We don’t know what the new CBA will offer as far as extending rookie contracts, but under the current rules, Batum would be eligible for a new contract this summer. Cho has taken every opportunity to reiterate the Frenchman’s importance to the franchise going forward, and all indications are that Batum wants to be here, so it’s highly likely that some kind of deal will get done. So how much? That’s tricky. Batum bounced between the starting and bench units this season through various injuries and has settled nicely into a sixth-man role since the Gerald Wallace trade. He’s the Blazers’ only consistent scorer off the bench, and is a formidable perimeter defender. Since he likely won’t be a starter in the immediate future, I’m hesitant to pay him starter money, but if Cho decides to, I won’t exactly say it was a bad move, either. From my gut, a five-year deal worth $35-40 million seems reasonable for Batum.

Rudy Fernandez’s Extendable Rookie Contract

We’ve gotten past the not-wanting-to-be-here stage with Rudy, but no-showing again in the playoffs didn’t exactly help his case for earning a long-term contract in Portland. He still has one year left on his rookie deal, and as he always is, will probably be one of the most-discussed trade pieces on this roster. What value he has in a trade is debatable, but it would be greatly decreased if it came with a four- or five-year commitment.

An Extension for Gerald Wallace?

Wallace is under contract through 2013, but can opt out after next season. My gut tells me he won’t, because the new CBA will likely feature a lower salary cap and he won’t be able to receive nearly the $10.5 million per year he’s getting on this contract. Still, Crash is only 28, and he’s been such a difference-maker on both ends of the floor since coming to Portland from Charlotte in February that I can’t think of a single reason why the Blazers shouldn’t try to lock him up long-term. A four- or five-year extension worth roughly what Wallace is making now would be a smart move for Portland, but if they could frontload this hypothetical extension, that would be even better, since Gerald’s bruising style of play could result in his health deteriorating a few years into the contract. Even so, it’s a risk worth taking, because the Blazers are better with him than they were without him.

Patty Mills’ $1.1 Million Qualifying Offer and Restricted Free Agency

I’d imagine the Blazers will extend Patty the qualifying offer, but I don’t see him drawing a great deal of interest from other teams. He’s become a fan favorite in Portland, and could grow into a dependable backup point guard in time, but he isn’t there yet. He’ll either take the QO or sign a modest multiyear deal with the Blazers. Either one is fine with me.

Greg Oden’s $8.8 Million Qualifying Offer and Restricted Free Agency

This is the Blazers’ offseason decision that will likely garner the most media attention. All reports have Oden still several months out from being able to resume basketball-related activities, but we’ve all seen the impact he can have when healthy, and the promise has gone unfulfilled for so long that people forget Greg is still only 23 years old. He’s said he wants to stay in Portland, and Cho has said several times in recent months that he will likely extend him the QO at the very least. It’s tough to gauge exactly what the market for Oden will be as a restricted free agent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of teams think he’s worth a gamble, which is precisely why the Blazers can’t afford to let him walk for nothing. Obviously, if a rebuilding team like Detroit or Minnesota offered him something like 5 years at $60 million, Portland might have to think twice about matching it, but Oden likely knows that he isn’t in any position to demand that kind of deal from the Blazers. My ideal contract for Oden would look something like this: a five-year deal with two years guaranteed and three team options, with a base salary in the $4-6 million range per year plus a wide range of incentives for games played, All-Star selections, All-Defensive selections, and other such indicators of his ability to not only stay on the floor but be effective. The incentives would have to be large enough that, if he were to meet them, they would bring the contract close to his value when healthy. This contract is a win-win for both sides: it’s relatively low-risk for the Blazers, and if Oden gets healthy and delivers on his potential, he won’t be grossly underpaid.

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