Allen Crabbe has exceeded expectations all season and emerged as a legitimate "3-and-D" threat off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers. Crabbe's improved play has garnered the third-year wing 26 minutes per game and on Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors he exceeded 2000 total minutes for the season.
The 2000 minute threshold was important for Crabbe's salary situation going into this summer because it triggered the "starter criteria." As a former second round pick who exceeded 2000 minutes in his third season, Crabbe is now eligible for a qualifying offer equal to that of the no. 21 pick in the 2012 NBA draft (Jared Sullinger, by the way). This raises Crabbe's qualifying offer from about $1.8 million to over $2.7 million. (For full details on the "starter criteria" provision check out Larry Coon's CBA FAQ.)
For Crabbe, the increased QO has no impact; he is in line to make several times that amount as a restricted free agent this summer. The Blazers, however, will lose nearly $1 million in cap space because of the increased obligation to Crabbe.
Here is their salary cap situation before Crabbe triggered the starter criteria:
It is tempting to write off the million dollar loss as insignificant in the grand scheme of this summer's $90 million salary cap, but it is worth noting that the Blazers' cap flexibility may slowly be eroding. On top of Crabbe's raise, the Blazers are reportedly also on the hook for a 2.5 percent salary increase to Damian Lillard should Lillard make an all-NBA team, and about $2 million for Anderson Varejao's stretched contract. Together, these three seemingly minor cap penalties have cost the team about $6 million.
In terms of roster flexibility, the Blazers will need to clear about $25 million in salary obligations to make a maximum contract offer to a veteran of 10+ years and about $20 million to make a maximum offer to a player with 7-9 years of experience (Note: These numbers assume a $90 million cap and maximum salaries of roughly $29.5 million and $25 million). This can be done be renouncing Chris Kaman and Brian Roberts and at least one other player. But even after renouncing at least three players, the Blazers will have little or no additional money to spend after the hypothetical max contract signing. Given that the Blazers have several major holes on the roster, this may become problematic.
Thus if General Manager Neil Olshey wants to pursue a second tier free agent in addition to a max contract player, that $6 million difference could force the Blazers to renounce Gerald Henderson, Moe Harkless, or Meyers Leonard. Suddenly, the seemingly minor lesser obligations have a very real negative impact.
That being said, in a vacuum every move has made salary sense - Varejao netted an extra first round draft pick, for example. But it does raise the question of how many more of these small cap hits the Blazers can withstand before the cumulative effect costs them a potential difference making player.
H/T to Yahoo Sports for bringing the 2000 minute threshold to our attention.