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Portland Trail Blazers: Salary Cap and Reworking the Roster

The Blazer's Edge Mailbag tackles trade and free agency questions today, including the rigors of the NBA salary cap and how the Blazers are bound by it.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

More free agent signings, trade propositions, and a little salary cap talk carry today's Mailbag!

Hey Dave,

I was mulling over some options for the Trail Blazers' offseason. Do you think these options are possible, and if so, would they be positive changes to the second unit?

·Trade Dorell Wright and Meyers Leonard for a backup big (Donatas Motiejunas?) and a future second round pick.

· Sign Emeka Okafor with the BAE.

· Sign Shawn Marion with extra cap space from Wright and Leonard Trade ($5+ million).

·Sign either Darren Collison or Shaun Livingston with our MLE.

Sound realistic knowing Olshey is a magician? Or is that scenario just a pipe dream?


This is cool, with just a couple problems.

The lesser is that Okafor for the bi-annual exception would be a steal and a half. That's barely over $2 million. Unless he's a complete wreck, somebody's got to offer him more than that. But consider this my official "make it so" wish that the Blazers could pull it off.

The greater problem: your magical wheeling-dealing violates league rules. Olshey wouldn't just have to be a magician, he'd have to cheat.

You posit the Blazers gaining cap space from a Robinson-Leonard trade, using that space to sign Marion, and then using the mid-level exception. But exceptions are only for teams over the cap. If at any time you go under the cap by an amount that exceeds your exceptions, you lose them. You can't sign a player under the cap then use exceptions as if you were over the cap.

How does this work technically? The league adds the value of all potential exceptions to your cap space automatically, whether you use them or not. They're like a cap hold that way.

Just for fun, let's assume the salary cap is $60 million, your team pays out salaries of $58 million, and it qualifies for cap exceptions totaling $7 million. Though the contracts on your books read $58 million, for cap purposes your salaries actually total $65 million ($58 mil plus the $7 mil in cap exceptions that you qualify for but haven't spent yet). The extra $7 million will stay on your books until you have used the exception--in which case it remains on the books as actual salary--or you renounce the exceptions. If you renounce the exception the cap hold disappears but you cannot use them again this year.

If, as in your example, our dumped $5 million in salary via trade, dropping actual salaries paid from $58 million to $53 million. This wouldn't eliminate the cap hold caused by the exceptions. Instead of reading $65 million ($58m + $7m) the total salary would sit at $60 million ($53m + $7m). Because the exceptions are still on the books, the team is still capped out even after saving $5 million in the Leonard/Robinson deal.

At that point the team has two choices, assuming your scenario above:

1. Use the exceptions to sign Okafor and Collison/Livingston, in which case the $7 million cap hold becomes $7 million in actual salary. This leaves the team at $60 million, at the cap limit without signing Marion, unable to offer him a contract.

2. Renounce the exceptions, eliminating the cap holds and leaving the team $7 million in actual cap space to use. This could be used to sign Marion for $5 million and maybe Okafor for $2 million if you wish, but then the team reaches $60 million again and has no room to sign Collison or Livingston. Having renounced the exceptions to generate cap space, the team loses them for the season. They cannot then un-renounce them when they hit the cap and thus cannot make Collison or Livingston an offer.

Whichever way you go, under these circumstances the team could get some of the players you wish, but not all of them.

Mr. Dave:

Apologies if this subject was already discussed before, but how about Brook Lopez and the owner paying the luxury tax?

· Nets consider Brook only a commodity and Coach Kidd's offense doesn't favor him.

· After so many ankle surgeries, he cannot expect to be an all-star starting center ever again

· Reunite the Stanford Tandem using Brook as a 25 minute per game backup. Two true centers. Reverse if necessary.

As much as it would hurt, the Blazers are loaded at SF, so a Batum for Lopez deal would work in ESPN's trade machine. I think Brook is a better risk than Hibbert, and after last year, I think the fans would revolt if the team attempted to trade Matthews.


It has been discussed, but not for a while. Prior to Brook's injury--and even for a while after--I opined that reuniting the Lopez brothers would be a cool move, yielding a fine offense-defense center platoon. Depending on Brook's recovery, I wouldn't mind keeping the prospect alive. The Blazers can't afford to trade a starter for an injured player, though. They probably can't trade a starter for a limited-minute bench guy least not until we're far more sure that they're as stacked at the wing positions as you suggest. Mixing in Dorell Wright, Victor Claver, Will Barton, and Thomas Robinson does not 48 minutes of solid small forward make.

You mention the luxury tax. Lopez alone wouldn't send the Blazers over the top, as his salary only adds $4-5 million to the mix over Batum, depending on the year. Re-signing players in the summer of 2015 may push them over, but that'd depend on those contract levels. In any case, the potential cost wouldn't be dollars as much as flexibility. Teams over the tax line have their trade powers and cap exceptions nerfed. You have to be sure your team is fully assembled before you get to that point. Extra money aside, I'm not sure a Lopez for Batum swap gets the Blazers farther along the road quickly enough to make the tax implications practical.


So far you have dealt with trade questions related to aldridge and batum. but what about matthews? a trade involving wesley would be the least disruptive of any trade involving our starting five (unless you are able to trade lopez for noah.)

i am thinking about trading matthews and freeland to cleveland for hawes and waiters. Hawes would upgrade our depth up front and waiters is a lights out shooter who hasnt fit in well next irving at cleveland (if they draft wiggins waiters might need to go anyway) but hs a ton of ability.

shooting guard is the position where we have the greatest amount of depth so we wouldnt be totally sunk if waiters doesn't pan out. but this trade is really about acquiring a proven big man who can score from the paint or from deep. the espn trade machine says yes. who says no?


Just a guess, but Cleveland? Even if they're tired of Waiters they'll put a reasonably high value on him in trade. Getting Matthews back for Hawes and Waiters--on a one-year deal, no less--doesn't seem like the best package for that duo.

Also, the NBA? Hawes' contract is expiring. Once the season ends you can't trade a player whose contract ends July 1. A sign-and-trade is always possible but that adds an extra level of complication.

I do like the idea of Hawes as a Blazer. Pepping up the shooting guard rotation wouldn't kill Portland either. I just don't think that deal sees the light of day in real life.

You're right (perhaps) about the loss of Matthews impacting the team less than Batum or Aldridge but he'd also bring less in return. It seems to me the Blazers are in a counter-intuitive situation this summer. With the system they play, their starters are worth more to them than they're worth to most any other team. Losing any of them would hurt. The willingness to endure that pain is commensurate with the reward coming back. The greater that reward, the more sense the move makes regardless of who exits. In some ways trading Aldridge for a huge package might make more sense than trading Matthews for a fairly modest return. Either move would change the course of the franchise. If you're going to do it, you probably want to do it big and take your best shot at making a true leap rather than an adjustment.

We're loving these questions! You can submit yours to the e-mail address right after my name, marked "Mailbag" if you please.

--Dave / @DaveDeckard