You could buy stock in Pets.com. You could pay a plastic surgeon to make yourself and all your loved ones look just like Steve Buscemi. You could even buy 582,396 copies of Bristol Palin's new book, "Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far."
But let's be honest: $8.8 million for a four-year veteran big man who's missed 75 percent of his games with injuries? That's one of the worst investments imaginable.
And it's precisely the situation faced this summer by the Portland Trail Blazers, who are reportedly making a big investment in former No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden. According to multiple reports released Wednesday night, the Blazers are all set to make a hefty qualifying offer to their restricted free agent.
It surely wasn't an easy decision for Chad Buchanan, who's taken over on an interim basis as the Blazers' third general manager in the last year. The Blazers like Oden and want to keep him around, but $8.8 million? For a guy who's spent three times more playing time on his living room couch than the basketball court?
But that's the way it works in the NBA — young players aren't rewarded in this league for their production on the court, but rather for their position in the draft. Al Horford, the No. 3 pick in the 2007 draft, signed an extension this season for five years and $60 million. Kevin Durant, the No. 2, inked his last summer for the max — five years, $82 million.
Oden won't get an offer that big, in all likelihood. But the current CBA requires the Blazers offer him way more than he deserves.
The Blazers are in a tough spot. If they let Oden walk, they're left with no one on their roster but the creaky 37-year-old Marcus Camby that can play center. If Camby gets hurt next season, they're screwed. But if the Blazers keep Oden, they're investing a ton of money in a guy who can't play until 2012 and may well break down again. Especially if the 2011-12 season turns out to be a lockout-shortened one like 1998-99, with the league trying to cram 50 games into three months, sometimes playing dreaded back-to-back-to-backs. The risks are just too great.
Oden's next deal has the potential to be a terrible, terrible contract. Possibly franchise-ruining-ly terrible. The Blazers will try to spin the situation, saying they don't have a choice but to keep Oden around. But is that really true? $8.8 million is a lot of money. There are some quality veteran centers in this league — guys like, say, Kendrick Perkins — available for that kind of dough.
The right move with Oden is to cut him loose. Let him hit the open market, then try to renegotiate. With operations on both knees behind him and nothing but uncertainty ahead, he won't command $8.8 million anywhere in the league. If the Blazers were sensible, they would let Oden slide into unrestricted free agency and then try re-signing him on the cheap.
When you spend $8.8 million, you should know what you're getting. You should be investing in someone productive, complementary, and above all reliable. This would be common sense, you'd think — but sometimes, NBA teams have an unfortunate habit of letting fear, bias and sentiment get in the way of good old-fashioned logic.
Good luck, Portland. Clearly you'll need it.
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