Blazers reverse field on cap strategy
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, February 10
Updated: February 10
8:08 AM ET

A "watershed day" in Portland? That's the pronouncement from the Blazers after
swapping Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person to the Hawks for Shareef Abdur-Rahim
and Theo Ratliff.

Watershed? Let us count the ways.

One, the move signaled the return of Paul Allen to his big-spending ways. For
those prognosticators who insisted Blazers GM John Nash would only take expiring
contracts for Wallace, do the math. The Blazers stood to cut $24 million in cap
space this summer by letting the contracts of Wallace and Person expire. Instead
they picked up Abdur-Rahim and Ratliff, who are due a combined $25 million next
season. Factor in a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax hit for the Blazers, and the
cost of shipping Rasheed out of town is $50 million.

That's right folks. Allen was willing to spend $50 million through next season
to get rid of Wallace now. That's more than many NBA teams will spend on their
entire payroll next season.

Two, all the talk out of Portland about Rasheed being a changed player? A bunch
of bull. The Blazers finally were winning, and they were doing it with Wallace
playing at center and Miles in the middle. Talk of a contract extension leaked
to the media and glowing stories about Rasheed's maturity seem now to have been
little more than negotiating tactics to get the best deal for 'Sheed. If he
really had changed, as so many Blazers were saying, why not keep him and take
your chances this summer. Folks don't spend $50 million to give up a guy for no
reason -- not even Paul Allen.

Three, before the Blazers can credibly claim they have moved into a "new era,"
they better check their roster one more time. Yes, they've dumped Bonzi Wells, a
repeated offender in Portland. Wallace is gone, too, which is great. But left
behind are numbskulls like Ruben Patterson, Damon Stoudamire and, to a lesser
extent, Zach Randolph and Qyntel Woods. While the face of the Blazers has
undoubtedly changed, they still have more trouble makers on their roster than
anyone else in the league. Let's not take down the Neighborhood Watch signs just
yet.

Four, the trade does nothing to relieve the Blazers' long-term cap crunch. As
mentioned, Abdur-Rahim and Ratliff come off the books in the summer of 2005,
providing $25 million in cap space. But that assumes Portland elects not to
re-sign at least one of them or give a big extension to Randolph. If the Blazers
are still intent on clearing cap room, we might have to go through this whole
process next year with Rahim.

Five, how about that headline on Blazers.com: "Blazers trade for two all-stars."
Did anyone else do a double take at that? Who writes these things? Does the fact
that Ratliff and Abdur-Rahim were all stars once (like in 1776) still qualify
them to be termed an all-star? That sounds like a bit of an oversell.

Six, is any one else concerned that Portland's three best players all play the
same position -- power forward? Yes, Abdur-Rahim can move to the three, though
he's less effective there, and Ratliff can play some five, at least in the
Eastern Conference. But the move doesn't address the team's long-term needs the
way it could have if it instead had traded for Erick Dampier and Nick Van Exel.
Unless the Blazers have another trick up their sleeve, they're a little
log-jammed up front at the moment.

Seven -- admit it, you're surprised it took me this long to propose another
trade for the Blazers. Right? Well, why settle for dumping half of the bad eggs?
Is there any way Nash can now package Randolph and Stoudamire or Dale Davis and
Patterson for a decent point guard and even more cap space? Before firing off
those nasty e-mails, Blazers fans, lets all admit that Randolph has been fatally
exposed to too much Blazer-itus. He's showing all the symptoms, and despite his
great scoring and rebounding numbers, he's among the laziest defenders in the
league and can't pass out of a double team. Mark some of this down to
immaturity, but also realize that some guys never outgrow that. Why not trade
him while he's hot? Abdur-Rahim is better at the four anyway.

How do you do it? Thought you'd never ask. What about this? Why don't the
Blazers get on the phone with the Rockets and 76ers and get this trade done:
Portland sends Randolph, Woods and Patterson to the Rockets and Davis and
Stoudamire to the 76ers. Philadelphia sends Eric Snow to Houston and Glenn
Robinson and Aaron McKie to Portland. Houston sends Steve Francis and Eric
Piatkowski to Portland.

This is one Francis trade that will work for the Rockets. The team has a $6.9
million trade exception that it can use to make up for the fact that it can only
take back half of Francis' value in trade. Snow's salary would fit into the
trade exception slot and make the trade possible under the rules of the
collective bargaining agreement.

Why does it work? For Portland, they would have dumped every bad guy on their
roster and somehow wound up with Francis -- the perfect type of superstar they
need to lead their team. They would have to swallow some bad contracts -- McKie
and Robinson -- to get him, but the good news is McKie-for-Patterson really is a
wash, money-wise, and Robinson comes off the books in 2005.

In Houston, Jeff Van Gundy would end the growing blood feud with Francis and get
back several players who can really help him in the long run. Snow is the
perfect point guard to play in Van Gundy's system, and Randolph would give the
Rockets another rock-solid, low-post scoring and rebounding option. In other
words, no more Kelvin Cato at the four. Money-wise, the whole thing would be a
wash for the Rockets, though they might have to pay Randolph lots of money in
the summer of 2005.

The Sixers move three contracts they've desperately been trying to dump and get
back two solid players who happen to have contracts that expire in 2005. It
would be mainly a cap move for Philadelphia, however, there's no reason the team
can't play as well or better with Davis and Stoudamire in the lineup.
Around the League

Burning down Atlanta: The Hawks' motivation is pretty straightforward -- the
move gives Atlanta roughly $15 million in cap space going into this summer.
Abdur-Rahim and Ratliff were nice players, but everyone knew Atlanta wasn't
going to win anything with either of them.

Disregard all the rhetoric about giving Wallace a chance in Atlanta. It's a
joke. The Hawks want the cap freedom, and there's no way 'Sheed will play in
Atlanta next season. A sign-and-trade won't be out of the question, as
capped-out teams like the Knicks, Mavericks and Rockets likely will show some
interest in 'Sheed, but none of those teams have players the Hawks are after.
Most likely the Hawks will just let Wallace walk and start over from scratch.
My only beef? Why not find a way to work Jason Terry into the deal? Unlike
Abdur-Rahim and Ratliff, Terry has been the real troublemaker in Atlanta. Expect
that sentiment to grow now that the Hawks have gone from bad to awful with an
unmotivated Wallace as the only go-to guy on the roster.

The good news is that, barring a huge free-agent migration to Utah, the Hawks
will be able to move Terry to the Jazz in September, a year after the Jazz
signed him to an offer sheet. Terry still wants to play there, and the Jazz
should have the cap room to absorb his contract and might be willing to give
Atlanta a prospect back in return.

Bulls out of the running: Last week we wrote that the main trade-deadline
traffic would run directly through four places -- Atlanta, Portland, Chicago and
New York. The Hawks and Blazers have made their big deals. What about the Bulls
and Knicks?

Bulls GM Jim Paxson told the Chicago Sun-Times that after shopping Eddy Curry
and Jamal Crawford around, he thinks he's going to hold onto both players, at
least until the summer. Curry has been playing inspired basketball of late, and
Crawford is a restricted free agent this summer.

"Eddy and Tyson aren't going anywhere," Paxson told the Sun-Times. And what
about Crawford?

"I don't see us doing anything with Jamal," Paxson said. "The reality is we
still have the chance to match anything he gets in the summer [as a restricted
free agent]. And who knows? If he wants to be here, he has a new agent [Leon
Rose], so maybe there's a way we can work something out with him anyway."
That leaves Marcus Fizer as the only Bull left on the block. Rumors that he may
be going to the Clippers or the Pistons have been around for weeks, but so far
nothing has happened.

Knicks staying out of trading frenzy? The two top forwards Isiah Thomas was
pursuing -- Wallace and Abdur-Rahim are now off the trade block. That doesn't
leave him much else to deal with. He'd love to get his hands on Erick Dampier,
but he doesn't have the expiring contracts to get it done.

Thomas also appears to be unwilling to trade Kurt Thomas, the team's most
moveable asset. What does that mean? All the talk about the Knicks being on the
verge of another big trade seems to be mostly hot air. While anything is
possible with Isiah, he's going to have a very tough time pulling off a deal if
Keith Van Horn, Frank Williams and Michael Doleac are the best he can offer.