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Could the Blazers Be Trading Harkless and Ezeli?

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Nothing is firm yet but multiple signs are creating smoke around a Portland deal.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The moment the Portland Trail Blazers re-signed their entire roster this summer, experts and casual observers alike began speculating about a “consolidation trade”. The Blazers had too many players of similar talent level and position; they needed a star, or at least more “oomph” in the frontcourt. A move was in the works.

Until now, all’s been quiet on the trade front in Portland, but cumulative events of the last 24 hours could indicate that the long-awaited exchange is on the way. Those events center around starting small forward Maurice Harkless and injured center Festus Ezeli. No individual item carries great weight, yet many of them are conjoining at the same time. These include:

  • January 15th—arriving at midnight, Eastern, tonight--is the first day that players who re-signed with their current teams using Bird Rights can be traded. Moe Harkless re-upped with the Blazers last summer.
  • Harkless was scratched from last night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, with a calf strain announced a couple hours before tip-off. No reports were clear on the origin or timing of the injury.

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune offered perspective on the injury:

  • The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman sent out a pair of tweets regarding Ezeli’s departure from the locker room last night, indicating it appeared to be more than the usual goodbye between teammates.
  • Jason Quick of CSNNW followed up with this tweet.

It’s worth noting that there are no similar reports about Harkless not traveling with the team.

Together it amounts to reading tea leaves. They would lay out this way if a trade were imminent, but it’s also plausible that the convergence is coincidental, indicating nothing. Meanwhile Blazers fans watch and wait.

If a deal were underway, here are the facts you’d need to know to gauge who could be coming to Portland in return.

  1. Harkless is making approximately $9 million this season. His contract runs through 2019-20 and peaks at $11 million with no known options. Ezeli makes $7.5 million with a non-guaranteed second year at $7.7 million. If he is waived before June 30th, 2017 the second year obligation becomes negligible. Together Harkless and Ezeli combine for $16.5 million in salary.
  2. The Trail Blazers are over the cap, meaning the salary or salaries they take in return can total no more than $20.6 million, assuming no other players are dealt.
  3. The Trail Blazers are also treading the luxury tax line, which means taking in salaries above $16.5 million would impact their budget and allow the possibility of becoming a repeat tax offender, which would limit their future trade flexibility.
  4. Harkless is averaging 12 points on 50% shooting from the field, 36% from the arc, with 5 rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes per game as a starter for the Blazers. Ezeli has not suited up for Portland, as a lingering knee injury has plagued him all year. Yesterday Quick expressed doubt that he would play at all this season.
  5. The Blazers also have draft picks to dangle in trade. They own all of their own first-rounders, present and future. They also hold the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick in the 2017 draft.

Having reset the table here, we will use this post to update new developments as they transpire.

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—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard