The Deepest Pockets in Sports

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
1:11
PM ET

For Blazer fans, and for NBA fans everywhere to a lesser degree, Paul Allen's money has long been a magic bullet.

SPAM, they call it. Spending Paul Allen's Money.

The Microsoft co-founder has been, at various times, very high on the list of the world's richest people. He has long been considered the richest owner in sports. And he has spent like it -- the Blazers have made move after move that involved the outlay of cash. Thee are countless examples, including outbidding the Lakers for Scottie Pippen, which nearly won the team a championship in 2000.

More recently, Portland got rid of Zach Randolph by taking on and buying out Steve Francis -- who is effectively the highest paid Blazer this year.

They became regular purchasers of first-round picks, which they used on players like Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez. 

And the usual math for NBA teams has been that you can't afford to re-sign all of your young players -- show me a team with three or four huge deals, and I'll show you a team paying the luxury tax. But you don't hear people talking like that about the Blazers. The idea has long been that Paul Allen will spend as much as it takes to keep the likes of Brandon Roy.

Thanks to the luxury tax, the largess of teams like the Knicks and Blazers is an NBA-wide treasure.

For instance, when Rashard Lewis signed an insanely big contract with Orlando, a sportswriter called me taking odds that it would be Paul Allen who would pay off the final few years of it.  The idea is that when talented players make too much money, there is still a market for them thanks to owners like Allen.

But there are two suggestions today that things could be changing a little. The financial crisis -- is it hitting home here, too?

Et tu, Paul?

First, consider this tidbit from Chad Ford:

One source told me the Nets agreed to send two future firsts (Dallas' and Golden State's) along with Carter to the Blazers for Raef LaFrentz. The Blazers, however, turned them down.  

OK, whatever, trades that didn't happen ... but ... really?

I mean, think about that. Vince Carter is a great player. And he comes with a recession's most valuable commodities: Draft picks. And all you have to do is pay this great player slightly more than he's worth next season, before buying him out for $4 million. (UPDATE: Kevin Pritchard addresses the team's lack of deadline deals on Blazers.com, and insists that "when the time is right," Paul Allen "will go for it.")

And Paul Allen said no?

I have to believe that there was a time Paul Allen would have paid something close to what Vince Carter will make just for those two good draft picks. (On the other hand, if everybody is desperate for cash, maybe $3 million gets you a lottery pick this year. In fact, maybe you could buy multiple lottery picks this year with the same cash.)

If Ford's source is correct here, that says that both the Blazers and the Nets are operating in an extreme cost-cutting environment. That is was offered says the Nets are in trouble. That is was rejected ... that starts to point to the Blazers.

In Portland, people close to the team say the team is on a mission to get to profitability (a mission that was very much stymied by the Darius Miles fiasco). Getting into the black is more or less of the opposite of SPAM.

And then, consider the work of Ben at BlazersEdge, who has been poking around the idea that Paul Allen may not be as wealthy as he once was.

This cable TV venture has gone bankrupt, reportedly with tens of billions in debt. There have reportedly been layoffs at the parent company of Allen's many business ventures. He has sold off his share of Dreamworks, and depending how much Microsoft stock he still owns, he could have lost billions of paper wealth from that stock's recent descent alone.

So, as you consider the landscape around the NBA, and who is buying and who is selling ... I suppose it's still fair to expect that Paul Allen and the Blazers will ultimately prove to be a big-spending team again. 

But the limitless spigot of cash that has long characterized Paul Allen's ownership, that certainly does not appear to be functioning like it has in the past.

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