After the sting of Greg Oden's latest tough break wears off, the intrigue sets in. The big question right now is whether the Blazers will cough up the mammoth qualifying offer needed to make Oden a restricted free agent during this offseason. The QO question is typically academic, given that most players worth keeping won't sign the QO, it's typically a small-dollar contract and it always lasts just one year. Players want long-term security, not one-season leases on their NBA careers.
Offering a QO is just another tentacle of franchise power when it comes to first-round picks, the final flourish of big business advantage for the owners. (This is why I was so angrily flummoxed when Memphis declined to tender Ronnie Brewer a cheap QO.) But there are particular factors at work that make Oden's QO a real tough sell to the Blazers.
First of all, it's freaking $8.8 million. That's a lot of money, about 14 percent of this year's salary cap.
If Portland offered, it would guarantee Oden would be a Blazer for 2010-11 -- provided Oden didn't get an outrageous offer as a restricted free agent. If Portland didn't offer it, Oden would become unrestricted, and his career in Portland would essentially be over. The question for the Blazers: is giving Oden one more shot to save his career in Portland worth reduced free agent flexibility and potentially paying the tax?
Thanks to the contracts of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby, the Blazers will already be over the cap next summer, even if it isn't slashed dramatically in collective bargaining. But adding Oden's QO would put the team in luxury tax danger. Paul Allen ain't shy, but you have to wonder if he's interested to paying tax for a player on a one-year deal who will be out until Christmas and who will have played in only 25 percent of his potential regular season games over four years (during which Allen paid him almost $22 million).
Portland isn't the only town with QO madness, though -- the Wizards have some slightly more amusing but still ulcer-inducing decisions to make. Barring collective bargaining Armageddon, the 'Zards will be substantially below the cap line this summer. But the team has three potential restricted free agents of varying profiles: Yi Jianlian, Nick Young and Al Thornton. Yi and Thornton both came to the Wiz in financially-motivated moves within the past year. Thornton has been ... well, Thornton, the NBA player most allergic to passing. It's actually wonderful that Ryan Gomes replaced Thornton in L.A., given that Thornton's outlook right now is that of a Gomesian career: too good to be left outside the NBA, too bad to matter in the NBA.
So the Wizards can certainly withhold the $3.9-million QO on Thornton, and no one would lose their breath. Young is a Wizards product, and GM Ernie Grunfeld tends to be proud of his work. (In other words, he doesn't readily give up on his players.) Young seems to be pulling it together this year after three seasons of inconsistent bench play and spot starts.
He's a no-question NBA rotation player, a more flexible Daniel Gibson. Given that Young's QO is only $3.7 million, it would seem like the Wizards would offer it up and try to work out a sensible extension with the guard.
Which brings up to Yi. The Chinese forward's QO is $5.4 million, and for the Wizards could be the difference between substantial cap space and, well, little cap space. Provided Yi comes back from his latest injury fairly quickly, he's had a decent enough career to warrant a multi-year deal from someone. So the Wizards would need to sort out whether they have any intention of keeping Yi; Washington has Andray Blatche at power forward (on a brand new deal), with Frenchman Kevin Seraphin on the roster as well.
The risk of offering the QO with no intention or a small likelihood of matching an offer sheet would be that while Yi looks for a deal in restricted free agency, the Wizards' cap space would be tied up. As we saw last July, the free agents you'd want to grab tend to go quickly. So the risk of offering Yi the QO isn't anything like the risk in offering Oden the QO -- the Wizards wouldn't necessarily be afraid of Yi taking the one-year contract and limiting cap space that way. They'd be afraid of a drawn-out process that results in not keeping Yi and delaying Washington's jump into the free agent pool.
As such, it's a real question as to whether it's even worth it for the Wizards to make the offer. In a glorious turn toward sanity, basketball may actually influence the decision; if Yi plays well enough to nudge himself into the Wizards' long-term plans, the decision could become much, much easier. Either way, the run-up to free agency (barring collective bargaining Armageddon) should be as intriguing as ever. (TZ)
Lock and Load
Michigan State and UNC will hook up on a docked aircraft carrier next November to honor veterans. If college basketball is more reliant on fundamentals than the NBA, and fans of amateur ball more readily genuflect at the altar of work ethic, then it makes sense the NCAA would connect with the United States military in partnership. (This says nothing of Tom Izzo's particularly grindstone flavor of style.)
The proper analogy would have David Stern scheduling an All-Star Game on the International Space Station, given the NBA's explosivity, excess and athletic wackiness relative to college play. But alas, some pinko is de-funding NASA, or something. It would never work.
So let us at The Works stand down, re-align with the NCAA's idea and tell you all about the NBA's long list of players with decidedly militaristic names or nicknames. Know that some of these names are never, ever used. (Looking at you, B-52.) (FanHouse's Barry Werner was particularly helpful in culling this list. If you have some we missed, tweet them at us with the #NBAmil hashtag.) (TZ)
Chain of Command
Avery "The Little General" Johnson; "The Admiral" David Robinson; Gary "The General" Grant; Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas; Stephen "Captain Jack" Jackson; Major Jones; "The Chief" Robert Parish; Ron "Tru Warier" Artest; "Captain Kirk" Hinrich.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Tommy "Ack Ack" Heinsohn (from the sound a machine gun makes); Adam "AMMO" Morrison; "Pistol" Pete Maravich; Eric "The Polish Rifle" Piatkowski; "The Rifleman" Chuck Person; Calvin "The Pocket Rocket" Murphy; Travis "Machine Gun" Grant; Andrei "AK-47" Kirilenko; Popeye "Grenade" Jones.
On the Move
Kenny "The Jet" Smith; Jason "JET" Terry; Chet "The Jet" Walker; LaSalle "Tank" Thompson; Marc "Tanketa" Gasol; "Helicopter" Herman Knowings; Brad "B-52" Miller; "The Aircraft Carrier" Joe Barry Carroll; Truck Robinson.
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.