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Portland Trail Blazers Free Agency Primer, 2017 Edition

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The Blazers are deep into the luxury tax, but still have several options to tweak the roster. Eric Griffith reviews the moves they can and cannot make.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last month Blazer’s Edge has reviewed the options the Blazers will and won’t have when free agency officially opens on July 1, 2017. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version (note that some specific details in links are slightly out of date, but the general principles still apply):

Moves the Blazers Won’t Be Able to Make

Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception

Teams over the luxury tax apron cannot use the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) or Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) to sign free agents. The Blazers have about $140 million in salary for the 2017-18 season, and the apron is set at $6 million over the tax threshold. That puts the apron at about $125 million this summer. So the Blazers would need to drop significant salary to be able to use the MLE or BAE.

Note that to be eligible to use either the MLE or BAE teams must be under the apron AFTER the exception has been used.

Signing max contract free agents

Signing a max contract free agent will be very difficult:

Next year’s NBA salary cap is set at $101 million, so any team hoping to sign Millsap in free agency will need a payroll of no greater than $76 million. The Blazers have $133 million in guaranteed contracts, and would consequently need to dump $57 million in salary for nothing.

In other words, they’d have to trade Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Allen Crabbe for nothing to make a run at Millsap.

And the Blazers are prohibited from using sign and trades currently:

They will also be over the tax “apron,” set at $6 million above the luxury tax line, and will be prohibited from making sign and trade deals, per league rules, if they are still above the apron after the trade.

This means if the Blazers want to complete any sign and trade they will need to shed $6 million, in addition to the $25+ million they’d need to send out to make room for Millsap. This also assumes that all three first-round draft picks are either “stashed” overseas or traded for nothing, and that Tim Quarterman and Pat Connaughton are released.

Signing mid-tier free agents

Dewayne Dedmon as an example:

The Blazers, however, have more than $134 million in guaranteed salary next season, before adding draft picks, and will be well over the estimated $127 million tax apron. That means the only way they can sign free agents will be with the taxpayer mid-level set at $5.2 million. That salary is unlikely to lure Dedmon to Rip City. As a tax-payer, the Blazers also will not be allowed to execute sign and trades, per league rules.

Moves the Blazers Can Make

Contract Extensions

Negotiating an extension with Jusuf Nurkic and/or Noah Vonleh:

Nurkic’s long term status with the team has not been finalized. His rookie contract ends at the end of the 2017-18 season, at which point he will likely become a restricted free agent.

The Blazers and Nurkic, however, can forestall the Bosnian Beast’s pending free agency by agreeing to a contract extension. As a player entering the final year of his rookie contract, Nurkic will be eligible to sign an extension on July 1.

Trades

The Blazers can make trades with other teams. Since they are over the tax apron, however, they will be restricted in how much salary they can take back - 125 percent of the salary they send out plus an additional $100,000. Trade partners who are below the tax apron or have cap space do not necessarily have to follow this restriction.

Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception

The Blazers might be able to lure a cheap veteran:

Teams over the apron do not get a midlevel exception (MLE) or bi-annual exception to sign free agents, but they do get a $5.3 million taxpayer MLE.

President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey can use the taxpayer MLE to sign any free agents or second round draft picks to a contract of up to three years... A $5.3 million contract will not attract a big name free agent, but the Blazers may be able to use it to lure a veteran player who can still, hopefully, make an impact but has been overlooked by other teams. Last year notable veterans signing in the $5-6 million range included Matt Barnes and Brandon Jennings.

Minimum Salary Contracts

They can also search for bargain basement deals. It worked for the Warriors with JaVale McGee!

The NBA allows any team that is not hard capped to sign players to minimum salary contracts. Last year players like Marreese Speights, Jarrett Jack, and Anderson Varejao signed minimum salary contracts...

Minimum contracts can be partially or non-guaranteed to start the season, making them low-risk, high-reward propositions.

Traded Player Exceptions

The Blazers recently garnered a Traded Player Exception (TPE) for dealing Tim Quarterman to the Rockets for cash. They could use that TPE to acquire another player. They could also create more TPEs in salary dumps:

The TPE would be for the value of the outgoing player’s salary and could be used to acquire players in future trades without having to send out any salary in return. It would expire after one year.

Other Details

The Salary cap is lower than expected, which might make negotiating transactions more difficult than expected.

Allen Crabbe has a trade kicker which will make him more difficult to trade.

Trade kickers affect the way that salaries are matched when teams make trades. The team giving up the player only gets “credit” for the pre-kicker salary, while the team receiving the player has to have room for the post-bonus salary.

In practice this means that the Blazers are sending out $19.3 million to trade Crabbe but the receiving team is taking on $22.2 million.