Al-Farouq Aminu agreed to terms on a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers worth a reported $30 million over 4 years immediately after free agency began last night. The signing of Aminu is the latest in a string of transactions that have significantly overhauled the Blazers' lineup over the last couple weeks. The roster turnover, coupled with the free agency of several key players including cornerstone forward LaMarcus Aldridge, has left Portland's salary cap status in flux.
To understand Portland's current salary cap situation, it is first helpful to consider the minimum and maximum cap space that the Blazers could have to sign free agents. Assuming that the Blazers renounce all cap holds, thus surrendering their Bird Rights to any free agents, they will have approximately $32.9 million in cap space (if you would like a review of salary cap terms like "Bird Rights" or "cap holds," I would suggest visiting Larry Coon's CBA FAQ).
Note: This table, and all other tables, operate under the assumption that the salary cap will be about $68.1 million, higher than previously estimated.
Of course, the first concern of Olshey and fans is the status of LaMarcus Aldridge. If Aldridge stays with Portland and the Blazers renounce all other free agents, the team will have about $14.5 million to spend.
If Aldridge opts not to sign with Portland then the approximately $19 million earmarked for him could be used on another unrestricted free agent seeking the maximum salary, such as Kevin Love or DeAndre Jordan. Under that scenario, the Blazers would still have about $14.5 million available.
That being said, it is now impossible for the Blazers to sign Aldridge and a SECOND maximum contract free agent without first clearing about $4 or $5 million in salary. Given that Portland added $4.2 million in salary yesterday by fully guaranteeing the second year of Chris Kaman's contract, it seems unlikely that Olshey ever planned to sign a second max free agent.
Of course, the scenarios outlined so far assume that the Blazers are renouncing Bird rights to all their free agents. This seems likely for:
Arron Afflalo - Neither side has publicly expressed interest after the rough half season he spent in Portland.
- Dorrell Wright - He has been linked to the LA teams and has not been linked with Portland. Note that Portland could renounce him, but then re-sign him using the non-Bird exception.
- Joel Freeland - Not extending a qualifying offer suggested that Olshey does not intend to bring Freeland back.
That leaves two starters from last year's team unaccounted for: Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez. Assuming the Blazers sign a max free agent (hopefully Aldridge), how much room would they have if they retained the cap holds for Lopez and Matthews? Under that scenario, the salary situation would look like this:
The Blazers would only have about $2.4 million in cap space available, which would not be enough to complete the Aminu signing. Unless Olshey completes a lopsided trade to clear cap room before July 8, the Blazers will have to renounce either Matthews or Lopez. After signing Aminu, if only Lopez's cap hold is retained the Blazers will have about $5.3 million in remaining cap space, while if only Matthews' hold is retained they will have about $3.6 million to work with.
The fact that Olshey is apparently going to let Matthews and/or Lopez walk should not come as a surprise after Portland traded away Nicolas Batum last week. Batum filled several holes in the Blazers' roster perfectly by acting as a secondary ballhandler, secondary playmaker, perimeter defender, and small ball stretch 4. Quite simply, the Blazers are not going to fill all those roles with Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh, and the $3.5 million in cap space that the Batum trade generated. For a team like Portland that relied heavily on the synergy of its starting unit to exceed the level of play of the five individual players, it would not make sense to permanently remove one complementary piece in Batum, but hold on to several others and expect the team to continue playing at a high level. We saw as much last year when Matthews was lost for the final month of the season.