If the Blazers want to continue the current rebuild, they face difficult player decisions in the months ahead. First, as we near the February 8th trade deadline, then around the draft, and finally next July. There are so many permutations that it is impossible to predict what will happen. But unless the Blazers decide to start over by trading away some of the Core 3 (Dame, CJ, and Nurk) for draft picks, almost every scenario is going to have one thing in common - a large Tax Bill.
I'm guessing Paul Allen would allow the team to go as much as $10M over the Luxury Tax threshold to keep the Blazers competitive and fighting for a playoff spot. That would cost the Blazers an additional $16.25M in taxes plus a $133M team salary, for a total of nearly $150M. But if that team couldn't even be sure of a playoff spot, is he going to spend $150M on those players? The temptation to break-up the Core 3 by trading CJ for draft picks, or letting Nurk walk away, would have to be considered.
On the other side of the coin, it's anyone's guess how much Allen would pay for a team that had top-4 in the West written all over it and was predicted to make the Western Conference Finals. Would he go $20M over the Luxury Tax threshold for that team? That would mean a $45M tax bill on top of a team salary of $143M, for a total of $188M.
So I'll look at two scenarios that retain the Core 3 and book-end a huge array of player permutations to see what those teams cost next year. Since we don't know if Nurk will finish this year like an All-star or like an average starting center, I'll take a middle of the road guess that he gets $20M next year.
The "Let Them Walk" Scenario
In this scenario the Blazers re-sign Nurk and let the rest of their Free Agents walk away, backfilling them with minimum salaried players. I'll use $1.6M for the minimum salary, and assume we draft and keep a 1st round pick at $2M.
|10||was Noah Vonleh||1,600,000|
|11||was Ed Davis||1,600,000|
|12||was Shabazz Napier||1,600,000|
|13||was Pat Connaughton||1,600,000|
|14||Draft Pick - was Layman||2,000,000|
|Total w/Dead money||138,856,025|
|Over Tax Level||15,856,025|
This scenario doesn't come close to being only $10M over the tax threshold, and has a total cost of $170M with the tax. It's hard to imagine that team, with only 7 returning vets plus this year's 2 rookies, minus Vonleh, Napier, PC, and Davis is going to be as good as this year's team.
So simply re-signing Nurk and letting the other Free Agents walk away seems like an unacceptable outcome.
The Dumping Scenario
So next is a scenario where the Blazers re-sign Vonleh, PC, and Napier to value contracts since they are producing at the moment, and dump the more expensive contracts of Harkless, Davis, and Meyers receiving nothing more than draft picks in return (probably not even a draft pick for Meyers).
This is about as low a payroll as possible with the assumption that we need to keep at least one of Aminu or Harkless. I'll guess $6M to re-sign Vonleh, and $5M for PC and Napier. There's not enough information this early in the season to guess with much confidence, so adjust with your own guesses.
|11||was Meyers - Min Salary||1,600,000|
|12||was Mo - Min Salary||1,600,000|
|13||was Ed - Min Salary||1,600,000|
|14||1st Round Rookie||2,000,000|
|15||Open Roster Spot|
|Total w/Dead money||131,823,440|
|Over Tax Level||8,823,440|
This scenario is just under $10M over the tax target, but still has a total cost of $146M. That team, minus Davis, Harkless, and Meyers from this season, at least has a chance to be as good as this year's team if Vonleh, PC, and Napier continue to improve and this year's rookies provide some help. But it's still likely fighting just to make the playoffs.
At this point in the season, I think most of us agree the Blazers aren't going to take a significant step forward toward becoming a contender unless they add at least one more quality starter, and that starter needs to be a forward (most likely a small forward) that can reliably deliver 15 or more points a game when it's needed.
Even if a trade involving some combination of Davis, Harkless (or Aminu), Meyers, rookies, and draft picks could return a talented small forward, or if that player was magically dropped in our lap so we could use our $13M TPE, there is virtually no salary room even in The Dumping Scenario for such a player.
The obvious solution is to find some way to also dump ET's $18M contract. Short of that, Paul Allen would have to eat a massive tax bill to add a high-quality $10M-$15M player, which may still not be enough to crack the top-4 in the West.