Canzano: As Trail Blazers season ends, whispers begin about franchise sale
Source: Blazers being prepared for auction.
PORTLAND — One of the most tumultuous regular seasons in Trail Blazers’ history will mercifully draw to an end tonight at Moda Center.
Portland will play Utah on what the franchise is calling, “Fan Appreciation Night.” Legendary broadcaster Bill Schonely will be honored in a halftime retirement ceremony. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden will be on hand as part of the festivities. And some lucky ticket holder will win a pair of Alaska Airlines tickets.
Final tally: 27 wins? Or 28?
That’s where this season finds itself. But it’s the future of Trail Blazers, Inc. that we need to discuss today. Because while this is a profitable franchise with some solid tradition and a great fan base, the entire enterprise has been on autopilot since the death of Paul Allen in 2018.
• The NBA franchise and the City of Portland remain in “productive discussions” about the lease that ties them together, per a city source. The lease expires in 2025 and includes ironclad language that ensures the team stays through 2023.
Said the source: “The negotiations are a priority for both sides.”
• A source who works for the Vulcan, Inc. mothership tells me that the NBA franchise will be prepared for an auction in the next six to 18 months. The whisper is that Vice Chairman Bert Kolde will lead the effort on behalf of the Paul G. Allen Trust. The franchise braintrust is carefully tracking what happens with the sale of the Denver Broncos, too.
In February, the Pat Bowlen Trust announced it was putting the NFL team in Denver up for sale. Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, is expected to submit a $4 billion bid for the franchise.
Interesting times, aren’t they?
The Blazers’ valuation was placed at $2.05 billion late last year — No. 13 among the league’s franchises, per Forbes. The franchise has operating income that typically fluctuates between $19 million-$27 million a year.
Allen paid $70 million for the Blazers in 1988. At the time of his death, three decades later the franchise was estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.3 billion. The prevailing thought is that a sale of the team and the home arena might command double that on the open market.
I’m told there is no plan for the franchise to be relocated. Portland has a functional arena, loyal customers and commissioner Adam Silver wouldn’t dare repeat the biggest mistake of David Stern’s career — ushering the Sonics to Oklahoma City.
It’s why the timing on the negotiation of the existing lease agreement and the potential auction is so interesting. The city wants to get a deal done. The franchise does, too. Most believe the NBA will eventually put expansion franchises in Seattle and Las Vegas and provide a multi-billion dollar windfall split by the rest of the league’s owners. That will undoubtedly be baked into the sales price in Portland.
The Blazers need new ownership. Jody Allen is a trustee of her brother’s estate, but she doesn’t love the NBA franchise like her brother did. The Blazers have a talent deficit on the court. They’re without a permanent general manager. But the most hollow void right now is in the ownership seat. There’s just no passion or accountability.
There would be a long line of investors who would desire a franchise with some selling points, including the rabid fan base and a star player under contract. The NBA is surging in popularity and there’s a scarcity of available teams.
Damian Lillard’s contract expires at the end of the 2023-24 season. There’s been debate about whether the team should give him a two-year extension. The dollar figure being thrown out: $107 million. Lillard’s camp would not only need to sell the front office on a new contract, but would now also need to convince the trustees that a buyer wouldn’t view his contract as a liability.
Decide for yourself whether you’d want Lillard on the books at age 36 for $55 million. But these decisions and negotiations feel as if they are headed to a collision in the coming months. The Blazers may be finishing a season tonight but they also stand in the doorway of their future.
The regular season will come to an end vs. the Jazz. Some fans will win prizes. And Schonely will take a well-deserved victory lap. But I’m left thinking about what the fan base deserves.
An auction. A new owner. Some hope for the future.
Let it be true.
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