Every now and then I watch Dorell Wright play basketball and think to myself: “Wow, he still looks pretty good for a 30 year old,” then I remember that he is only 28. It is possible that this age misconception is an isolated phenomenon and I am simply losing my mind, but, as the potentially crazy person in question, I do not believe that I am the only one who absent-mindedly makes this mistake. After all, Wright just finished his 10th NBA season. He was drafted 19th in 2004 (two years before one year of college ball became a solidified requirement) and entered the league at 18 years old.
This is important because most NBA players hit their prime around 26 or 27. The Portland Trail Blazers have the 28 year old under contract for one more season at $3.1 million. Think about that for a moment. Wright is coming off the bench in his prime for a salary equal to Joel Freeland’s. I won’t quite call him a flat-out bargain, but he is realistically worth a bit more than that. At the very least, this is smart budgeting on Portland’s part.
Actually, looking back, Wright has been underpaid through the second half of his career. The most money he ever made in a single NBA season was $4.1 million with the Philadelphia 76ers, which, for the record, is just a smidge more than Thomas Robinson is being paid right now. Even when Wright was balling out in 2011 for the Golden State Warriors, he was only paid $3.5 million. He was probably never worth more than $6-7 million or so, but he seems to have coasted below what one would expect for some time now.
Again, this is great for the Trail Blazers. The modest wiggle room they have for free agency this year would be nonexistent if Wright were paid his worth. Now they can possibly find another role player without shuffling the roster too badly, while still keeping Wright for another season. I will not pretend that he is a necessary piece (though he would be a valued starter on some teams), but his occasional late-season flashes of 15 and 5 were instrumental in securing favorable seeding for the 2014 NBA playoffs. Having room for another bench booster heightens my hopes for 2015.
Regardless of whether or not the Trail Blazers can woo another cheap free agent, I would not be at all surprised to see Wright take on a larger role next season. Head coach Terry Stotts did not start carving out heavier minutes for him until about the midway point of 2013-2014. As a result, the veteran averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game, missing 14 games entirely. Now that he is trusted, adjusted, and not so rusted, he could be called upon to step up; especially if the aforementioned, hypothetical free agent does not exist/pan out.
If nothing else, Wright represents budget team-building. For some frame of reference, players of comparable experience that did arguably less for their respective teams this year include John Salmons, Marvin Williams, and Tayshaun Prince; each of whom was paid between $7-8 million. The remaining year of Wright’s contract provides flexibility in the short term, no commitment in the long term, and a primed veteran backup in between. It is sneakily valuable for the Trail Blazers, who need inexpensive depth like a fish needs water.