Let me take you back a bit, to the not so distant past. April 23rd. The Blazers have just completed a Playoff comeback of epic proportions, the Rose Garden crowd has screamed itself hoarse two or three times over, and amid the falling streamers and the embrace of his teammates, Brandon Roy is being shuttled to the sidelines to perform his heroic duties as the Blazers’ postgame, sideline interview subject.
TNT’s diligent sideline reporter, Marty Snider, covering the Round One Dallas/Portland series, lobs Brandon the customary softball:
“This one feels a lot more emotional tonight Brandon, why?”
He is referencing, of course, game three in which Brandon appeared to return to form after sitting much of game two then complaining about it in the paper.
Brandon takes the softball and knocks it out of the park:
“Just for everything I’ve been through this year. I mean there were times when I didn’t know if I would play basketball again.”
Why is any of this relevant, more than a month later, with the Blazers tweeting about their vacations and the Dallas Mavericks gearing up for their second shot at the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals?
This is why. By now we’ve all seen it, and we’ve all seen the myriad reactions from writers far and wide about the implications of the Blazers trying to force Brandon Roy into retirement.
Although I have some serious issues with the veracity of the story, I’m more interested in what it foretells about this franchise and the future of its most notable player. John Canzano has made a nice career of dropping truth bombs on the city of Portland, both in print and over the airwaves, with little to no substantive corroboration of his claims. Far be it from me to ask him to change his game up when it’s obviously done him very well.
Here’s the issue I have with asking Brandon Roy to retire this offseason: what does it accomplish? Yes, Portland probably overpaid Brandon, but he earned max money in his first three seasons so you have to give it to. If the Blazers didn’t, and if he had become a free agent, somebody would have paid him. So if forcing Brandon into retirement means getting back some of that money, does that undo some bad management decision? Not in my opinion.
Like the firing of Rich Cho, pushing Brandon out the door seems like an effort to correct a poor decision with an even poorer decision. So Rich and Paul Allen weren’t simpatico, does it maybe make a little more fiscal sense to let the guy play out the string instead of cutting him loose? At least in that scenario you’re paying him to do a job, not to hang out by the pool, or worse, do the same job for a rival team.
Brandon is like the Cho scenario, but times ten. Brandon came in when the Blazers were belly up. A once storied franchise had earned a significant amount of notoriety with a roster full of guys that were comfortable making the news for activities not exactly basketball related. When the winning stopped, the fan base got restless, and it was time to rebuild.
Enter Brandon Roy. He was squeaky clean, a family man, a four-year college player, a North Westerner, what’s not to love? Five years later, the Blazers are back in the Playoffs three years running, Brandon’s a three-time All-Star, and now the brass feels like the best decision going forward is to get the guy that brought them to the brink of relevance to simply walk away from the game at the ripe old age of 26. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
Yes, I know that Brandon is a shade of what he once was, and the retirement speculation comes simply because it’s unclear what Brandon might be capable of in the future. Still, the team should still treat Brandon better than this. Of course, this retirement speculation is just that, speculation. The team hasn’t come out and addressed the allegations that getting Roy to retire is on the top of their to-do list for the summer.
But in a lot of ways, the damage has already been done. Brandon might not read the Oregonian on the regular, but somebody near to him has no doubt passed on what we’ve all read. Brandon is undoubtedly closer to the situation than anyone else involved, and hopefully the team did themselves a favor and contacted Roy when this story broke.
Even if they wanted him to know that it was true, and that they were interested in getting him to quit—I don’t know how, but I’m going to get ya—they at the very least owed him a phone call.
The call they should have made, though, would be the obligatory damage control call. The team knows that Brandon’s best years might be behind him, in many ways Brandon knows it too, see his comments to Marty Snider, but this team can still use Brandon Roy, and they owe it to him and to themselves to at least try and make it work.
Think about it like this: Brandon comes back next season, whenever that may be, and is a little more healthy, and a lot more understanding of what is role is going to be. Portland’s bench, in this scenario, is made up of Greg Oden, Nicolas Batum, and Brandon Roy, add in Rudy Fernandez or whatever mid-level shooter Portland can get in a deal for him, athletic guys like Chris Johnson and Elliot Williams, and whatever comes in the Draft, and the Blazer second unit might just be one of the best in the league.
Think about it another way: Paul Allen and GM-to-be-named-later, get together with the rest of the Vulcan brain trust, and figure out a way to force Brandon into early retirement; whether through being deemed medically unfit to play, or through some other, more nefarious scheme. In this scenario, Brandon Roy will have been cast out from the city that so often claimed to love him, and a franchise will have showed it’s complete inability to do right by its players. Imagine, too, that Brandon isn’t as damaged as the higher-ups thought, and in a year or less he’s back in the Rose Garden representing some other team. How would it feel to be on the receiving end of any number of the things Brandon Roy has done to teams visiting the RG? My guess is not great.
I had a chance to talk briefly with Brandon following Portland’s loss in game six that sent the Blazers packing, and kick-started Dallas’s domination of what remained of the Western Conference.
The locker room, following game six, could best be described as somber. I’ve been in the locker room after loses, and though the players are clearly less enthused in these situations than after a win, game six was my first experience in the losing team’s locker room after an elimination game. There were not very many happy faces.
I talked to Brandon after the television cameras had cleared out. He was sitting in front of his locker, putting his shoes on, preparing himself for the beginning of what might be the longest and most important offseason of his career.
Game three and four were memories, good memories to be sure, but they hadn’t kept Portland’s season from ending for the third straight year in game six of the Playoffs’ opening round.
I asked Brandon if he thought it might take some time for him to be able to contextualize 2010-11 with regards to what it meant for his career as a professional basketball player. He answered that at the moment what was on his mind was his teammates, and his friends, and the fact that there wouldn’t be any more chances for his team to win basketball games this year.
Before that though, he said this:
“Time off’s going to help me, not just time off but time to rehab. Just having time to work on my body, get my legs better. If I know myself I’ll take this summer pretty personal and want to make the most of it.”
That doesn’t sound to me like an individual contemplating hanging it up.
Who knows what the Blazers’ management team thinks they will accomplish by asking Brandon Roy to retire. What they should know, though, is that Brandon isn’t walking away without a fight. I’m willing to bet that a public dispute with their franchise player isn’t going to convince anybody that this organization is heading in the right direction.