Home > Essays > Essay: What To Do With B-Roy?

Essay: What To Do With B-Roy?

Basketball players need knees like piano prodigies need fingers. Like dairy farmers need the nose of a blood hound.  Like runway models need coordinated, lengthy legs.  Without these features they’re either 100 percent incapable of success or five minutes from unemployment. The Portland Trailblazers have figured this to be true in a more painful way than anybody else.  Bowie, Oden, and now their best player Brandon Roy have all had their promising careers redirected by chronic leg injuries.  The most unexpected and unexplainable case would be that of Roy, who is currently out indefinitely after undergoing his 17th arthroscopic knee operation in the past three years. Plays like this are in his rear view mirror:

What was once projected to be a long, perennial All-Star caliber career has been recalculated, and the freakish athletic ability he use to pull from his back pocket whenever he needed it just doesn’t exist anymore. Brandon Roy, in his prime, was in his own class, scratching the surface of elite (Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant) but looking down on intermediate franchise talents (Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson). Now, with both knees lacking any real cartilage to cushion the frequent jumping and landing that fits in with his job description, his days from here on out will be filled with frequent surgery dates and pain. Serious pain. Technically his future as a professional basketball player isn’t over (he hopes to play later this season but has no timetable for a return), but tragically, for both Roy and Portland’s fan base, his days of being looked at as a franchise player are all but over. The 26-year-old is currently in the first year of a five-year, $82 million contract; the type of deal that could lock a team in financial handcuffs if it isn’t given to a special player. Roy was special, but going forward he’ll be relegated a bench player’s minutes, able to chip in whenever he can.

In a perfect world where Egyptian government officials have coffee dates with the Muslim Brotherhood, Natalie Portman agrees to film four Black Swan sequels, and Dr. Dre releases one album every summer, Portland’s roster is constituted with Roy as the franchise leader, LaMarcus Aldridge as his low post sidekick, Wesley Matthews as the sixth man scorer/energy guy who supplies barely any drop off when Roy needs his rest, and a firmly planted Greg Oden as the defensive anchor who averages 18, 12, and four blocks a game. But, obviously, the world isn’t perfect. How the Trailblazers get out of this mess is anybody’s guess, leaving general manager Rich Cho to wiggle his way through an incredibly unenviable position. This week he revealed that Portland would be hyperactive in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Andre Miller has said he expects to be moved and with his cap-friendly expiring contract, chances are he will be.  Joel Przybilla also has an expiring contract, and attractive pieces like Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez could be of value to immediate title contenders looking for athletic young snipers to help spread the floor.

Cho has a few options here. He can go the Danny Ainge route (set up a seismic trade down the line by patiently acquiring as many draft picks and young assets as possible today), blow everything up and turn LaMarcus Aldridge into his new cornerstone (either trading Roy to the most desperate/insane bidder and most likely taking on a big chunk of the contract in the process, or praying doctors declare Roy physically unable to continue. According to Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ, if this were to happen Roy would still receive his money, but it wouldn’t count towards the team’s salary), a combination of the first two (continuing to build around Aldridge but keeping Roy around and still managing to acquire another top tier player. Not as difficult as it sounds, but a risky route), or mimic Toronto (and do nothing).

Let’s take a look at the third option for a second. Maybe Cho ships Miller, Batum, and Dante Cunningham to Indiana for Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts.  Or Miller and Fernandez to Charlotte for Gerald Wallace. By pairing either a 27-year-old Granger or 28-year-old Wallace with Aldridge, you’re giving each of them the most talented frontcourt teammate they’ve ever had. It’d be interesting to see if the former All-Stars are ultimately better suited as second options and whether Aldridge can become the team’s new franchise player—he’s literally improving by the month—or if Wallace and Granger can elevate themselves to a 25 point, eight board, five assist continual All-Star candidate level of play.

Portland’s situation is rarer than rare, and the only comparable situation I can think of—even though there’s probably a few better ones out there—is former Celtic Reggie Lewis, who died of a heart defect as a 27-year-old, 20 point a night scorer. Boston wouldn’t regain relevance for 10 years, and failed to seriously contend for nearly 20. Because Roy isn’t dead, the situation is obviously different, but the basic parallels exist: Losing a player who your management group has clearly selected as who they’d like to build their team around. Also, Portland is in a much better situation than Boston was in the early 90′s. They have Aldridge, the sixth highest attendance in the league, and they’re capable of making the playoffs even if Roy fails to lace them up again this season. The Trailblazers have money to blow and an impassioned fan base. A two or three season playoff participation drought won’t sit pretty with all those ticket holders who sat through the embarrassing Jailblazer era, especially when you consider less than a year ago that Cho stated Portland was “one or two pieces” away from winning a championship, but it’s anybody’s guess what happens with Portland and Roy over the next few years. The moves made in the weeks ahead will either help this misfortunate franchise write a positive next chapter, or keep its fans waiting for a truly successful era to come—like an optimistic guy getting stood up on a date, sitting at the restaurant’s window table long after the candle’s been put out.

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