It’s not surprising that the Trail Blazers are gearing up to use the new amnesty clause on Brandon Roy. Along with Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Luke Walton, and Travis Outlaw, he is one of the names that immediately jumped to mind for most people when word got out of the amnesty clause’s inclusion in the new CBA. My dear colleague Scott Leedy did a great job a few weeks ago of outlining exactly why, as much as it hurts, cutting ties with Roy is the only appropriate move for Portland going forward. He’s owed $68 million over the next four years, has no meniscus left in either of his knees, and is only sporadically capable of the kind of play that made him worthy of that contract in the first place. Banking on a return by Roy to his 2008-09 form, when he flirted with being a Top 10 player in the entire NBA, is a losing battle to fight.
All of this is true, but in spite of that, there’s a part of me that thinks the Blazers don’t necessarily need to rush into this decision. Barring a full season of healthy, productive Greg Oden (something else not worth holding your breath for), it’s highly unlikely that Portland will be a serious title contender this season. Other than flipping Andre Miller for Raymond Felton on draft day, their roster is virtually unchanged from the one that got bounced in the first round of the 2011 playoffs by Dallas. Shedding Roy’s contract would put them in a better position to use the full mid-level exception to sign…who, exactly? The free agents who could most help them make the jump to the Western Conference elite (Nene, Marc Gasol, Shane Battier) are almost definitely out of their price range. And anyway, Portland has no GM to make these moves.
Going into the 2010-11 season, Roy’s knees were a larger concern than they had been in the past (we all remember his dramatic early return from surgery during the Blazers’ first-round series agains Phoenix). But the expectations on him to be a franchise player and everyday number-one option were still there. Nobody knew that LaMarcus Aldridge would have the breakout year he had, or that Wesley Matthews would (mostly) live up to his controversial contract, or that the midseason acquisition of Gerald Wallace would rejuvenate the team on the defensive end. Roy’s dual arthroscopic knee surgeries and subsequent return as a bench player were a learning experience for Nate McMillan, for Roy’s Blazers teammates, for fans used to the Roy of old, and especially for Roy himself. His performance in game 4 of the Blazers’ first-round loss to Dallas, in which he almost singlehandedly brought the team back from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a dramatic win, galvanized everybody who believed he still had something in the tank, and served as catharsis for a player who had made headlines earlier in the series for his frustration with his playing time.
Going into this season, everybody has a better idea of Roy’s limitations. They know he’s still capable of what he did in that playoff game, but only occasionally. He’s had an extended offseason during which to come to terms with his diminished role. McMillan likely has a better idea of how to manage his former star’s minutes with these limitations in mind. With this firmer understanding of what can realistically be expected of him, do the Blazers really have that much to lose by seeing what they can get out of him this season?
Unlike Lewis and Arenas, two amnesty locks who have been viewed as overpaid and washed-up virtually since they signed their contracts, Roy is still beloved in Portland. It’s going to be a bitter pill to swallow for fans when it does happen, but cutting Roy is the only rational move for the Blazers to make. It has to happen eventually. But even waiving Roy and signing a low-priced free agent or two isn’t going to make Portland into a contender this year. It won’t be until next offseason, when Marcus Camby and potentially Gerald Wallace come off the books, that Portland will possibly have serious room to work with. Using the amnesty provision on Roy will be an option then, and it will be equally effective in clearing room on the payroll. That will be the time to sever ties with him. In the meantime, Paul Allen will be paying him anyway. Why not see what he’s capable of?