PBA fans have practically conceded that Paul Lee would eventually be traded to another PBA team soon. And it's not because Rain or Shine doesn't like him - Coach Yeng Guiao has said that Lee is their franchise player.
The situation is complex because of the PBA's ruling that states any player who has played in the league for 7 years automatically becomes an unrestricted FA. Hence, Lee, who was drafted second overall in the 2011 season, will be free to sign up for any team of his choice by 2017.
The caveat is that ROS is given an opportunity to give Lee a salary that's 20% higher than what other teams may offer him. Hence, if the maximum salary is P420k a month, ROS can give him a salary worth P504k a month. But will Lee and his manager, Lawrence Chongson, bite?
This is probably a foregone conclusion already. Not because ROS doesn't want him - just that they wouldn't be able to match the offers from the bigger conglomerates in terms of incentives, bonuses, and others that are not part of the salary cap.
The key though is the timing. There's likelihood that Lee will sign up for a one-year max contract and wait for next year where he'll be an unrestricted FA. Should they trade Lee as early as possible or wait in the middle of next season before giving him up?
The ROS dilemma is that the unrestricted FA status that Lee will carry after next season will dilute their bargaining leverage. Teams would be privy to Lee's intent of testing the market come the 2017-18 season and may not be amenable to a "just and fair" trade. Lee's value is definitely higher than just a first round pick and ROS can ask for another player in return - or get another team's first round pick plus an active player, while giving up Lee and their own active player that's lower in value.
The best deal that ROS can get would be to give up Lee and, say, a Don Trollano, for Mahindra's first pick and a Bradwyn Guinto, or Blackwater's first pick and a JP Erram. That trade would be the closest to being equal in value.
However, will the two newer teams be willing to pay for Lee's maximum contract plus incentives, considering they're not exactly willing to spend that much? Similarly, with Lee's unrestricted FA status looming largely in the horizon, these two teams may find themselves in the same dilemma as ROS is now - where they may end up losing Lee come 2017.
From what Chongson has written in the PinoyExchange boards before, he's bent on giving Lee the best deal possible when he becomes an unrestricted FA. The only teams capable of giving that much are the SMC and MPIC teams. These are the only companies that won't worry too much about Lee's contractual status come 2017 simply because they'll be more than willing to give this to him.
So what would happen if ROS deals directly with SMC and / or MPIC? Don't expect it to be an easy negotiation as these conglomerates will play "hard ball" in the trading table. Will ROS be willing to give Lee up for TNT's first round pick (which isn't going to be high because of their competitive status) and, say, a Ryan Reyes, who Guiao admires? Or Meralco with Nabong and their own first pick?
Looking at the SMC side, will a Sangalang and a first round pick be enough to give up Lee and another ROS player? Or a first round pick and Dave Marcelo from Ginebra? Bottomline, it would be hard for ROS to extract fair compensation when they trade Lee so ROS fans would have to be lower their expectations.
This may end up getting messy in the end, but in the end, it seems there's nowhere else for Lee to go but for either conglomerate, no matter how much ROS values their recent Finals MVP.