Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey has significantly overhauled the team's roster over the last month; only six players from last year's team will be on the floor when training camp starts this fall. The high number of transactions has created several "loose threads" regarding Portland's salary cap status for next season. In this column, I'll answer some of the questions about the Blazers' transactions that have most commonly appeared in the comments section on Blazer's Edge.
How much cap space does Portland have?
As of today, Portland is about $25.9 million under the $70 million NBA salary cap. For the first time this century, Portland has significant money to spend on the free agent market. Details follow:
Unfortunately, nearly all of the high salary free agents have been signed at this point. The Blazers may sign another aging veteran to a short contract, or acquire another cheap prospect, a la Moe Harkless, but Olshey has been loath to overspend on any player during his time in Portland and Los Angeles. Blazers are most likely in a salary holding pattern for the rest of the summer.
In lieu of quality free agents, Olshey could negotiate an unbalanced trade and take on the salary of an overpaid veteran and a first round pick in exchange for cap space. Philadelphia has amassed a number of draft picks with this strategy over the last couple seasons, but that market is beginning to dry up. With the cap increasing to $89 million in 2016 there are very few teams that are both over the luxury tax threshold and have players with absurd contracts. Even Brooklyn, long the league's prime example of financial foolhardiness, has lowered its salary significantly.
Assuming most of the salary cap space does carry over to 2016 we can start to piece together the cap situation for next summer. Before renouncing any free agents or matching offers on restricted free agents, Portland would have about $79.6 million in cap holds and salary and only about $9.4 million to spend in the summer of 2016 (qualifying offers and cap holds are in green):
The salary cap space will likely be increased by renouncing Chris Kaman and Gerald Henderson. Without those players the Blazers will be about $25 million under the cap (qualifying offers and free agent cap holds are in green):
Can the Blazers sign a maximum contract free agent next summer?
In 2016 maximum contract free agents will demand about $25 million, so Portland will have the space to pursue a premier player such as Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, or Al Horford without renouncing Meyers Leonard or other prospects.
But if Olshey had successfully signed Greg Monroe or Enes Kanter either of those players would have taken about $17.1 million of that cap space in 2016. In that scenario Portland would have slightly less than $8 million to spend on a free agent. Even if Portland renounced Harkless, Crabbe, and Frazier they would have been well short of the estimated $25 million needed to sign a top tier free agent.
Further, Olshey technically could have waited to sign Damian Lillard to his maximum extension until next summer, thus reducing Lillard's impact on the cap in 2016 significantly. San Antonio made a similar decision with Kawhi Leonard's extension last year, allowing them to create the space needed to sign LaMarcus Aldridge this year.
When considered together, the Lillard contract extension and the attempted Monroe/Kanter signings imply that clearing as much cap space as possible for 2016 was not a primary concern of the Blazers' front office. Portland may have the money to make a maximum free agent offer next year, but that was apparently never Olshey ‘s plan A. Perhaps he doubts that the Blazers can attract one of the few free agents that are worth $25 million?
Do the Blazers need to hit the "salary floor"?
Some writers have discussed the minimum salary that the Blazers "need" to hit; in NBA CBA parlance that is known as the "Salary Floor" and is set at 90% of the salary cap ($63 million). It exists to guarantee that the players' portion of the "Basketball Related Income" is somewhat evenly distributed between all the teams.
The Blazers salary currently sits well below $63 million so unless Olshey manages an unbalanced trade for a massive contract the Blazers will almost certainly not reach the floor. In that case, the remaining difference between the salary floor and Portland's final payroll will be distributed to the players on the team either in proportion to their contracts or in a manner approved by the National Basketball Players Association. There is no punishment, however, for failing to reach $63 million so there is no need for Portland to make deals simply to raise their salary. Staying below the salary floor will essentially become a bonus for the players on the roster.
Additionally, the salary floor rule allowed Portland to take on Moe Harkless for literally nothing. Harkless' salary did not raise the team above $63 million so the total amount paid to players at the end of the season was not altered by his contract.
Can the Blazers trade Gerald Henderson?
To clarify Henderson's situation: Portland IS allowed to trade Henderson immediately (perhaps this should be re-named the "Luke Ridnour Rule"), but since the Blazers were over the cap when they acquired him he cannot be packaged with another outgoing player in a trade for 60 days. That deadline will pass in late August. December 15 is often cited incorrectly as the expiration of that trade restriction.
What's the deal with Dorrell Wright?
The Blazers have not publicly renounced free agent Dorrell Wright's early Bird rights because they are so far below the salary cap his cap hold has no impact on the team's finances. Given his age (i.e. too young to be a mentor, too old to be a prospect), and the need to give minutes to Vonleh, Harkless, and Aminu at the 3 / 4, it is very unlikely that Wright will return next season.
How many more players can the Blazers sign?
Portland currently has 14 players on their roster for next season after signing Montero. NBA teams are allowed to have as many as 15 players on their roster once the season starts, however, during training camp and pre-season they can have more than 15. The team will have the flexibility to sign as many as 6 additional players and make decisions for the lesser roster spots during the pre-season. Any players with non-guaranteed contracts (e.g. Allen Crabbe, Tim Frazier, Montero, etc.) will not count against the salary cap if they are cut.