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Steve Aschburner

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The potential success (or failure) of Brandon Roy's return to the NBA poses concerns for both teams.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Roy's return a tricky situation for both Blazers and Wolves


Posted Aug 3 2012 1:39PM

If you substitute the name Tracy McGrady for Brandon Roy in this whole Trail Blazers-to-retirement-to-Timberwolves thing, chances are it feels, and goes down, much different.

But since Roy is closer to Grant Hill than McGrady as far as fan sympathy and likeability, he is someone to root for rather than against. More thought, nationally anyway, is given to the team he's joining than to the team Roy left behind.

That's not fair in an absolute sense. But by being seen as a class act, a franchise savior on and off the court and the victim of cruel injury fate, Roy, like Hill exiting Orlando for Phoenix, has been able to leave Portland with a fat wallet, a seemingly clear conscience and few disparaging words. Blazers management is seen as complicit, flexing the amnesty clause to shrug Roy's max contract off its salary cap.

Still, the move isn't without its drama and potential pitfalls for Roy, for Portland and for Minnesota.

Any fan of NBA basketball would need to have a hard heart to not root for Roy to make a complete and inspiring comeback from the knee problems that prematurely shut him down in spring 2011 at age 26. Just this attempt -- his desire to play again, his refusal to simply go off and live like a lottery winner -- is a storyline worth savoring, no matter the outcome. At the very least, any questions we have about Roy's condition will be definitively answered; so will any doubts lingering in his mind. That's worth a lot.

There will, however, be a price paid somewhere. Already there is angst in Portland and trepidation in Minnesota, emotions inversely related as Roy's ability to endure and recover from NBA-caliber court time gets tested.

In hindsight, the best option for all involved would have been for Roy to have sat out last season, for Portland to have kept him on its roster at No. 15, for the Blazers to have skipped what turned out to be a one-year lease on Jamal Crawford and then for everyone to sit back now with clear minds, calmed knees and a full offseason to plot the future course.

Instead, there are second-guesses, suspicions and lightly bruised feelings, with the possibility that all might increase:

• When Roy so sadly shut down his Blazers career on the eve of the post-lockout season, did he callously orchestrate his unofficial retirement (he terms it a "pause") and now his return as a slick maneuver to dodge the amnesty-waiver process and not be stuck somewhere not to his liking (recall Chauncey Billups' reaction post-Knicks)?

There still is disagreement over the timeline and the intentions. Roy, at his introductory news conference in Minnesota this week, said the team dictated his exit. "... I went in for the physical, [the team doctor] thought it would be in my best interests to stop playing basketball because of my knees," Roy said. "We pretty much left it up to the team to decide if they wanted to pursue the medical retirement route. After a week, they decided to use the amnesty. For me, it was never that I was retired."

Yet former Blazers coach Nate McMillan told Ben Golliver of the Blazer's Edge blog last month: "This past season ... there wasn't going to be any minutes requirement. He would play as much as he could and we would go from there. We weren't able to see that because he decided to retire."

The elapsed time from Roy's final NBA Video highlight night against Dallas in the 2011 playoffs to his Wolves intro is a factor here, too. This isn't Roy Hobbs after being shot, the remnants of his career truly in need of a dusting. Roy's split from the Blazers occurred eight months ago.

• An alternative interpretation is that Roy seriously was hurting, in terms of both his knees and his psyche as his basketball life fizzled, and truly was quitting. Avoiding the meatball schedule of 2011-12 would have helped anyone's joints, meniscus-free or otherwise, and with every game his knees happily missed, his heart beat stronger for a comeback. From there, it was a short walk to being wooed by Minnesota VP David Kahn, owner Glen Taylor, coach Rick Adelman and, most of all, Wolves assistant Bill Bayno, a Roy guy for four seasons in Portland.

Roy needed a change of venue anyway -- it wouldn't have gone well, getting re-invented as anything shy of the player he'd been while hauling down the same max salary and facing the same lofty expectations. With the Blazers' amnesty move, Roy was free to choose.

There is a greater crossroads looming, though.

If Roy comes back and regains All-Star form -- he prefers to call it "high level" -- this will not be easy for Portland or its fans. Yes, the Blazers will get the benefits of amnesty for cap and tax purposes. But the actual cash still goes to Roy and, let's face it, that amount matters about the same as a ding in owner Paul Allen's latest snazzy yacht. Almost for a second time, Portland will feel that it has lost an elite shooting guard, the face of its franchise and a solid citizen whose arrival came at the right time, after Rip City fans had wearied of rooting for rippable characters.

Then again, if Roy fails completely, if he comes out on the other side of Minnesota's four-in-five grind in mid-December limping on both legs, there might be a certain relief in Portland that the Blazers and fans didn't get burned. But it will have a schadenfreude feel. Meanwhile in Minnesota, the price will climb higher than the two-year, $10 million contract Roy was given for this make-good endeavor.

Already, the Wolves are touting the old Roy -- that is, the young Roy -- on their Web site, selling him to the Twin Cities as that 2007 ROY Roy, the three-time All-Star. They are virtually naked at shooting guard otherwise, because Wes Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, was cashiered last month for two future second-rounders. (That's a failed No. 4 on top of the failed No. 6 of Jonny Flynn in 2009, possibly paving the way for a failed No. 2 from 2011 in Derrick Williams, on whom Adelman seems hardly sold.)

If Roy's comeback derails, there really is no backup plan, other than more backcourt time for two point guard sets, with Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea giving way to Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved.

Fortunately, there is some middle ground on which this can play out well enough for all parties. Say Roy manages to play 15-20 minutes, at something approaching his pro-rated career averages but in shorter stints, maybe with some precautionary nights off. He might be able to give the Wolves 10 points or so, two or three rebounds, three assists, while hitting 35 percent of his 3-pointers and 80 percent of his free throws. He certainly would give them a heady veteran (if he can stay out of the trainer's room).

That guy wouldn't cut it in Portland. Not after starring for the Blazers, anchoring the Blazers, promising so much with his heart that his knees couldn't deliver. Maybe he could go back as that guy some day. But not right now.

That guy in Minnesota would be a godsend. Johnson averaged 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and in 24.9 minutes as a starter the past two seasons. Roy wouldn't end the Wolves' search at shooting guard but he would buy them -- and Kahn -- time.

The bar is so low, in other words, that even someone without cartilage in his knees might be able to get over it. Most people around the NBA hope that happens, even if it's a little tricky for the fans in Portland.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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