Random Ravings: Can Brandon Roy and the Vulcans Mix in Portland?

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Random Ravings: Can Brandon Roy and the Vulcans Mix in Portland?
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I read an interesting column in the newspaper on Friday. Apparently, the Portland Trail Blazers are offering Brandon Roy a four-year extension, with dollar amounts undisclosed. Normally, this would be great news, for Roy is widely-regarded as the third-best shooting guard in the NBA, behind Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade. He is the unquestioned leader of the Blazers, and the main reason for their success.

The catch? Roy's camp wants a five-year extension.

The dollar amount isn't the issue, in my opinion; eventually, Roy's going to get the maximum amount. The sagging economy, while hitting the city of Portland hard, isn't an issue either, or as much as an issue as people would be led to believe. Not even the length of the contract is the problem.

The problem, my friends, are the Vulcans. Or, more precisely, the folks at Vulcan, Inc.

In case you aren't familiar with Vulcan, let me provide a flashback: several years ago, the Trail Blazers were racked by community-damaging players, their inability to keep their own arena (the one that Paul Allen, the Blazers owner, personally funded all by his lonesome), and a sea of red ink.

The situation got so bad that Allen seriously considered selling the team. This fact was alarming because he's easily one of the most supportive and wealthiest owners in professional sports, not to mention a man that doesn't give up easily on his business ventures.

While going through his options, Allen got his business venture think tank, Vulcan, involved. The Vulcans did an audit on all the Blazers' expenses, revenue, personnel performance, and business solvency.

This is what the Vulcans told Allen: fire your current president (Steve Patterson, since replaced with former Nike executive Larry Miller), your current GM (John Nash, since replaced with former underling Kevin Pritchard), several dozen support staff and buy back the Rose Garden.

Do all this, and the business that is the Portland Trail Blazers should be at the "break-even" point in several years.

Allen did all that his think tank suggested, and it has paid off in spades. Miller has the organization running economically and efficiently, handling the business side of the Blazers as well as anyone. Pritchard cleaned up the roster, transforming it into arguably the most talented and potential-laden squad in basketball.

While laying off those workers was a bad PR move, buying back the Rose Garden has the revenue streams back on track, and when the economy improves, those jobs should be open again.

And best of all, the Blazers were a hit in the community again.

The revival of the Portland Trail Blazers began with the Vulcans. If Paul Allen isn't careful, however, it may end with the Vulcans, too.

John Canzano, a columnist for The Oregonian, wrote that Vulcan, Inc., might be interfering with Pritchard's efforts to resign Roy. While Canzano makes his daily bread by fear-mongering, I believe he has a point this time around.

Kevin Pritchard is a smart man. Even if he is distracted by his efforts to acquire the missing cogs for a Blazer championship run, he shouldn't be hesitating to satisfy his star by signing him to the deal that he wants.

The suggestion that someone is ham-stringing Pritchard has traction when you consider that Tod Leiweke, the president of Vulcan, said that the Blazers are near the magical "break-even" point that Allen wants the franchise to be at. It also gets more traction when you consider that the Vulcans are mainly pure number-crunchers, the kind of people that look at the numbers and say "do this, do that" without considering other outcomes.

Allen may be trying, on the basis of Vulcan's data, to convince Pritchard to offer Roy an inferior deal when everyone with a clear head and a grain of common sense can see he is not only worthy of a maximum deal, he's the lowest business risk the Blazers will take perhaps in my lifetime.

However, the Vulcans would look at the length of contract Roy wants, the worsening Oregon economy, and the revenue/expense data, and they would say that signing Roy to that kind of deal would cost the Blazers more than they should pay.

Allow me to make a totally awful pun and call that kind of thinking...illogical.

First off, about the length of the deal. If it were possible, Pritchard would make Brandon Roy a Blazer for the rest of his life. All the man does is win you ball games, and he is only going to get better as he enters his prime. Signing Roy for five more years means you keep him until he reaches the age of 31.

In short, a great player plays for you while in his prime. You get his best years, and Brandon Roy's best years may be some of the best the NBA will see in a long time.

Secondly, the economy is forcing teams everywhere to cut back. Even in the states where it's effects aren't as acutely felt, the sports teams that reside there are looking at their respective off-seasons with a frugal eye.

In Oregon, the economy is especially destructive. The jobless rate here is the second-highest in the country, hovering around 12 percent. Roughly one out of eight of Oregon's five million-plus residents are unemployed, and many thousands that have jobs definitely can't afford to go to a ballgame.

However, the Vulcans don't realize the fact that, as the only major pro sports franchise in Portland, the Trail Blazers are a beloved part of life here. When they're reasonably successful (like now), the team has no trouble at all drawing sellouts--the Rose Garden, capacity 19,280, regularly had to squeeze in 20,000+ fans night in and night out.

People will come out to see the team, even when times are lean, because the team has something good going on. That will disappear if Brandon Roy is allowed to depart the Rose City in 2010.

To conclude, the Vulcans are looking at how much money the team is making. Despite the gains of the last three seasons, the Blazers are still in negative numbers—which means they're costing Paul Allen money, something that the Vulcans do not want at all.

To try to get the Blazers back into the black, they do what every business entity does: cut costs, services, and even people to save money. This approach may save businesses in the real world, but it would wreck the Trail Blazers, both on the court and on the balance sheet.

Roy's value as a player is obvious, but what the Seattle-based Vulcans don't realize is that Roy is as valuable as a spokesman for the Blazers, and as a team ambassador to the people of Portland. His charitable efforts all over the Pacific Northwest, his easy-going demeanor, and his ability to always say and do the right thing have endeared him to Portland.

While the short-term gains of not giving Roy what he wants would be evident to the Vulcans, the long-term pains that the Blazers would suffer would be evident to everybody else.

 

To sum up this very long article, I implore Mr. Tod Leiweke and his team at Vulcan, Inc., to kindly keep their noses out of Kevin Pritchard's business. While the Vulcans were instrumental in reviving the Portland Trail Blazers, they have outlived their usefulness to the team as far as I'm concerned.

If Paul Allen doesn't realize this, we may be in for a very tense period of time in the Rose City.

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