Upon learning of Brandon Roy's impending medical retirement, my first reaction is sadness, and my second is bewilderment.
First, obviously, there is the sadness. As most of you know, I spend a lot of time in the Rose City and saw quite a bit of the Blazers, so I feel an extra twinge of anguish at seeing such a good player being cut down in his prime. Roy was one of the league's 10 best players in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and the Blazers were the league's team of the future. It's easy to forget this now, but Oklahoma City executives were actually pointing to Portland as their model, saying they were a year behind where the Blazers were.
More than a player, Roy was also a swell guy and, when it came to dealing with the media, one of the league's most accessible stars. Beyond being really good, he was an easy player to root for, especially in a Portland community that had mostly experienced the opposite in the preceding seasons. His arrival signaled a rebirth for the franchise from the messy end to the "Jail Blazer" era, built around likeable players and deft drafting.
All that is out the window, although in some ways it eases the Blazers' pain. Much of the tab for Roy's remaining four years and $68 million will be picked up by insurance. In April, his contract will come off the cap entirely, which will put Portland in position to sign a max-contract free agent (provided it can find one who likes drizzle, bike lanes and independent bookstores).
In the meantime, we're left with questions about a bizarre week in Blazerland, which follows on the heels of a lot of other weirdness. For instance, you usually don't hear about a player retiring within days of the coach naming him a starter or the other assorted proclamations we heard from the Blazers this week about Roy's health.
Once again, one has to wonder who's really calling the shots in Portland these days and whether everybody is on the same page. Although Chad Buchanan, a capable executive, holds the acting GM title (after the team churned through Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho in less than a year), it appears team president Larry Miller has considerable influence, as does coach Nate McMillan. Many suspect the guy ultimately pulling the strings is Bert Kolde, a confidant of owner Paul Allen who lives in Seattle and has never worked in the league.
What's amazing is that, in the wake of all this and the fact that Greg Oden hasn't been healthy for most of the past half-decade, Portland still should have a pretty good team and make the playoffs again. The Blazers have an All-Star in the making in LaMarcus Aldridge and several good role players. Roy's announcement positions them to recover quickly.
But it's a disappointment compared to the promise of three years ago, when it appeared a Roy-Aldridge-Oden nucleus was poised for world domination. They'll be a nice team that wins more than half its games and probably loses in the first round of the playoffs again, but one can only wonder what might have been before fate intervened.