The Portland Trail Blazers have high expectations for the 2014-15 season. It took years upon years to assemble the current roster, and the tweaks they made in this offseason will be crucial to their success. This success will, in turn, be crucial for who among the assembly remains on roster for seasons to come. Here is how the contracts shake out on a year-to-year basis one year from now.
Players with guaranteed contracts
*Will return unless traded or cut*
Players with team options
*Trail Blazers decide to guarantee the remainder of the player’s contract or allow them to become an unrestricted free agent*
Players with qualifying offers
*Trail Blazers extend a one-year offer. If accepted, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent in one year; if not, the player becomes a restricted free agent immediately*
Players with player options
*The player decides to stay for the remainder of their contract or become an unrestricted free agent*
Steve Blake (2015-16 salary: $2.1M)
Unrestricted free agents
*The player and the Trail Blazers must agree on a new contract or the player looks for a contract elsewhere*
The “untouchable” list is actually rather short. Players that the Trail Blazers will for sure bring back (or attempt to) include only Lillard, Batum, Matthews, Aldridge, Lopez, and maybe Robinson/McCollum. I suppose Blake can be included here as well, since his fate is his own decision. Everyone else is at risk of being considered expendable—even Crabbe, whose contract is guaranteed, but a low enough cost to the team that they could swallow the $950K pill to waive him.
This conservatively leaves Barton, Claver, Crabbe, Kaman, Wright, Leonard, and Freeland on the chopping block. Now, unless the Trail Blazers suddenly find themselves in need of a renaissance, a few of these players will stick around. However; because Aldridge, Matthews, and Lopez are due such large paydays, some of them will for sure have to go.
Kaman will likely be cut, not for lack of skill, but because $5M is too much money for a 33 year-old backup center in this situation. The Trail Blazers specifically guaranteed just $1M of his 2015-16 salary so that they could release him if needed to retain their marquee free agents. His value lies in a one-year rental, but it would take extenuating circumstances to go beyond that.
Either Wright or Claver will likely be gone as well, but probably not both. If Wright wants to stay at a low price, the Trail Blazers should probably allocate their money accordingly and let Claver find a team that will actually use him. If Wright wants to leave, a qualifying offer for Claver might not be a bad idea.
As for Barton, Crabbe, Leonard, and Freeland; I believe these guys have the most to prove this year. They are all under different contractual circumstances:
- Barton will likely earn a qualifying offer, but only if he can find a meaningful role in an increasingly crowded backcourt.
- Crabbe will likely stay, but only if the Trail Blazers assign him more value than the roster spot he blocks from incoming free agents.
- Leonard’s team option will likely not be exercised unless he can make significant gains in limited minutes behind Lopez and Kaman at center.
- Freeland is a massive question mark since he will be a non-essential, unrestricted free agent in a money saving environment.
None of these four are guaranteed rotation minutes this season, so they will have to fight the hardest to remain members of the Portland Trail Blazers after this year. That is why they intrigue me the most. All it would take is some hard work and maybe an injured rotation player (knock on wood) for one of them to rise to prominence. I suspect that at least one or two of them will earn a return.
Ultimately, what we are looking at one year from now is who among the least useful costs the most, and who can match or exceed their paper value on the court. There is a good chance that about one third of the current roster will not be returning so that Portland can better fund their free agent retention. The threat of summer cleaning may be enough motivation for the bench brigade to up their game in 2014-15. Some will fare better than others.