This time of the season, there are always lots of rumors and suggestions regarding the Trail Blazers and what they might or might not do before the trade deadline. This year is no exception. But with the March 15th deadline quickly approaching, there are 4 storylines that I haven't seen anyone write about yet, so I thought I'd go ahead and start discussing them. Some are trade-specific, others look forward to the summer and free agency. But I think all four could play a part in the moves that the franchise makes - and doesn't make - over the next few months.
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1) Portland's 2012 1st Round Draft Pick.
Draft picks are often used as extra incentive to get the other team to accept a trade. Trail Blazer fans might be tempted to include the team’s 2012 1st round pick in trade proposals – in fact, I've already seen some suggesting that they trade it away. But what I don’t see anyone writing is that due to the Ted Stepien Rule, this is not possible, unless Portland receives back a 1st round pick (in either 2012 or 2013) in that same trade or in an earlier trade.
Essentially, the rule states that you must have a 1st round draft pick in one of the next two drafts (it doesn’t have to be your own pick but it must be a 1st round pick). Because Portland traded its 1st round pick in 2013 (conditionally) to Charlotte in the deal for Gerald Wallace, the Trail Blazers would be left without a 1st round pick in the next 2 drafts if they dealt away their 2012 1st rounder without getting a 1st round pick back. And that's not allowed.
2) Wesley Matthews' Contract
Wesley Matthews holds a unique place among the current Portland roster as it relates to his trade value – his actual salary is less than the amount that he counts against the cap. I don’t see anyone writing about this.
You might remember that Matthews was paid a signing bonus when he inked his contract in the summer of 2009. The amount of that signing bonus gets applied to his cap hit each year, making that figure higher than his actual salary for every season of that contract except for the first (which was last year). For example, in 2012-13, his cap hit will be $6,505,320 but his actual salary will only be $5,367,320. Might a money-conscious team view his contract as appealing, seeing as how he will continue to be paid less than his cap hit for each year remaining on his deal?
3) Nicolas Batum And Summer Cap Space
Lots of people – both in the media and on web sites such as Blazersedge – are talking about the prospect of Portland having cap space this summer if both Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford don’t pick up their Player Options. This is indeed a possibility.
What I don’t see anyone writing about is that this might be one reason why Nicolas Batum did not get an extension in January. Follow me here – as a free agent in July, Batum will count against the cap in the amount of $5,388,413. Had he actually received an extension, his contract amount in 2012-13 would have been the amount counting against the cap – and wouldn’t that have likely been more than the $5.39 million that he will count?
Was this intentional? We might never know. But there is the possibility that the ‘master plan’ going into this summer was to keep all options open – with one of those options being to use cap space to sign a free agent or two and then to re-sign Batum using Bird Rights. Having Batum count less against the cap as a free agent than as a player with an extension would maximize the potential of this possible course of action.
4) A Limit For Portland Adding Salary?
When training camp started in December, Portland looked to have a Team Salary figure well above that of the Luxury Tax threshold of $70.3 million. However, two significant things happened just before the start of the regular season - the team used the Amnesty Provision on Brandon Roy and Greg Oden signed a contract well below the $8.8 million Qualifying Offer amount (later reported to be $1.5 million for the season). These two incidents put the Trail Blazers below the tax threshold.
Today, even after signing Joel Przybilla, Portland has about $64.4 million in Team Salary. However, the league uses a team's figure on the last day of the regular season to determine whether or not they owe tax for that season, so a more important figure will be the Team Salary figure after the trade deadline. It would appear to me that as the team makes decisions on possible trades over the next two weeks, one major question looms: Can they afford to make a trade that would put them over the tax threshold?
After all, there are not only short term implications for going over the threshold this year (ie, having to pay tax money), but under the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are also long term implications. Not only will the tax rates increase in 2013-14 (instead of paying $1.00 for every dollar over the threshold, teams will pay between $1.75 and $3.25 for every dollar over the cap) but if a team goes over the threshold 4 out of 5 years, their tax rate goes up by an additional $1.00 (to between $2.75 and $4.25 for every dollar over the cap).
In other words, it's probably in the franchise's best financial interests not to go over the tax threshold this season, for both short and long term reasons. Might that play a factor in what trade offers are and are not considered by management between now and March 15th? I think it almost certainly will. When Trail Blazer President Larry Miller was asked by our own Ben Golliver if the franchise would avoid paying luxury tax except in situations where they were serious championship contenders, Miller's response was, "Absolutely. Absolutely." He used the word twice. It seems pretty clear that the team won't be willing to exceed the tax threshold for just any deal - in order to justify such a financial move, the return of talent will have to be significant.
They can still add about $5.9 million in additional salary without this becoming an issue. But any more than that....
Anyway, those are four things that I haven't seen anyone yet mentioning in the midst of all the talk about possible personnel changes. Feel free to discuss any of these or, better yet, come up with your own 'untalked about issues' in the comments below.