The Trail Blazers are not for sale.
But if the NBA organization goes there as expected, I’m pulling for Merritt Paulson to end up with the team.
Blazers Army, anyone?
The Timbers owner has been a terrific, engaging, enthusiastic leader. He wins, re-invests in the product, and best of all, gets so many of the little things right.
The Timbers play for another MLS title on Saturday in Atlanta.
It’s not an accident.
Paulson declined comment last month when I asked him about his potential interest in someday buying the Blazers. But “no comment” is a far cry from, “I’m not interested.”
In 2015, when I asked Paulson the same question he said, “Look. If Paul Allen were selling the Blazers, would I be interested? Yes.”
Allen died in October. It’s been speculated that the NBA franchise and the Moda Center would likely be sold together, probably in the 18-24 month timeline. The approximate valuation: $1.3 billion.
That price tag means Paulson would likely have to put together a syndicate much like what the Milwaukee Bucks have done. The Milwaukee Bucks boast more than 20 owners, including NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers. A similar Paulson-led partnership would likely have to happen in this case. And I’d expect that partnership to include his father, Henry Paulson, (net worth: $1 billion) the former US Secretary of the Treasury.
Be clear, the Timbers have turned to gold.
They sell out every game. They have a season-ticket wait-list of 10,000. They’re near the top of the league in all the key metrics (sponsorship, merchandise, social media following, broadcast ratings, etc.). Forbes valued the franchise at $250 million, sixth in the MLS, and now they’re expanding the home stadium.
The franchise fee Paulson paid for the Timbers?
A: $35 million. Not the $40 million reported in 2009.
The NBA has a glaring problem. Small-market franchises struggle to compete for talent, dollars and sustained success. Commissioner Adam Silver, who worked closely with Paulson years ago in the league office, must realize that in order for Portland to compete it needs ownership that has some proof of performance under similar duress.
Paulson leading a small-market ownership group, working with Silver to fix some of the league inequities, is what the NBA needs, too.
The Blazers are stale. They’re stuck, playing from the middle. They’ve missed on too many free-agent signings, and frankly, they’re just not in a market capable of overcoming that. Some new energy would benefit the franchise. Watching Paulson win an MLS Cup with coach Caleb Porter, then, re-load after he left the franchise, and get back with another head coach (Giovanni Savarese) is a remarkable bit of evidence.
So yeah, sign me up for a Paulson-led NBA effort someday. Get him in on the MLB to PDX front as well, while we’re at it. I’m told the Portland Diamond Project had some early discussions with the Timbers owner, but that he was too focused on the expansion project to get involved.
Maybe that changes, too.
The Timbers flat get it done. On the field, and off. They’re a three-time winner of the Community Team of the Year in their league. They’re listed as one of the top-10 philanthropic companies in the state of Oregon for the eighth straight year, and ESPN nominated the franchise as Sports Humanitarian of the Year.
Could Paulson do all that — and win on the court — with the Blazers?
I’d like to see him try.