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How the Blazers Could Use the Mid-Level Exception

With the luxury tax looming, adding salary is a scary prospect. Would any of these players be worth it?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2017 NBA Free Agent period has shown, potential additions to the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster are limited. As Blazer’s Edge author Eric Griffith wrote about here, Portland has only two options to entice potential free agents: minimum-contracts and the tax-payer mid-level exception valued at $5.3 million.

While this move is unlikely for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the huge penalty that the already-taxed team would incur, a few NBA players fall within Portland’s mid-level target range. If they’re serious about making a move now, they might target one or more for the following reasons.

They need to shore up the roster. Though you’re not going to find a real difference maker at this level, the team could use another adequate three-point shooter who can play perimeter defense. Unfortunately for the Blazers, 3 and D guys are in high demand and generally cost big money. Joe Ingles just re-signed with Utah for 4 years/$52 million and Tony Snell just got 4 years/$46 million. Those are well out of Portland’s price range. But if a bargain slipped their way, they’d have to think about it.

They need another veteran. The Blazers are the second youngest team in the league, with Evan Turner and Ed Davis playing grizzled gurus for the group at the ripe old age of 28. The dismal results and effort they showed at the beginning of last season can’t be repeated and wouldn’t fly with the right veteran on the roster. Festus Ezeli reportedly tried to hold the team accountable, but his age—combined with the fact that he wasn’t able to contribute—limited his effect in the locker room. Portland needs someone who can play and provide experience.

It’s quite common for veterans with impact and locker room “presence” to sign value deals with contenders in exchange for the chance to win a ring. That’s something the Blazers can’t realistically offer at this juncture, but how many teams can? If an affordable player gets passed up by the Warriors and Cavaliers, Portland might be able to offer the right combination of playing time and teaching opportunities.

Consider the following quartet of players...

Vince Carter

Well past the days of “Vinsanity”, Carter, 40, recently stated that he wants to play two more seasons and isn’t interested in ring-chasing. While he’s not a high level defender, he’s not embarrassingly bad on that end. He certainly isn’t afraid to shoot the long ball, taking a whopping 60 percent of his looks from beyond the arc - connecting at a 38 percent clip.

More importantly, Carter has seen it all, playing in 85 playoff games in his career. Assuming that Portland makes the playoffs next season, a guy that can help some of the more inexperienced guys avoid the “deer-in-the-headlights” syndrome is incredibly valuable.

Carter made $4.2 million last season

Gerald Green

Almost exactly two years ago I made the case for the Blazers to look at Gerald Green as an inexpensive option. While he’s lost a bit of the athleticism that made him such an explosive dunker, he’s still a low-cost option that can heat up in a hurry from the outside. Green shot 47 percent in the playoffs last year, starting seven games as the Celtics nursed and injured backcourt.

Green made $1.4 million last season.

Anthony Morrow

Acquired by the Chicago Bulls last February in the Taj Gibson trade, Morrow is a nice, but limited wing player. He shoots 43 percent from beyond the arc, but only 40 percent from two-point territory. He plays adequate defense and is one of the best wings in the league when it comes to taking care of the ball. With the Bulls in a full-on rebuild, it’s likely that they don’t make Morrow a contract offer.

Morrow made $3.4 million last season.

Matt Barnes

Look, I can’t stand the guy, but he’s got rings. He’s probably burned enough bridges throughout the league that Portland could make him an offer that he’d consider.

Barnes could be good for the Blazers. They need a little nastiness, a little toughness at the wing positions. According to the old truism, every team can have one knucklehead on the team, but no more. If you believe that Portland is in the clear currently, Barnes is your guy. He’s played 95 career playoff games. He hits the three...somewhat. He takes every tough assignment and often gets in his opponents head. You’ll hate him, but you’ll love him too.

Barnes made $6.4 last season. $6.1 million before being waived by the Sacramento Kings, and $383,351 from the Golden State Warriors.

If I had to guess, I don’t think Portland will end up using the taxpayer MLE. To the folks on the business side of the franchise, the cost in real dollars via the luxury-tax penalty probably outweighs the potential benefits. But if Portland doesn’t want to shed salary - or isn’t able to - and instead decides to try to avoid the repeater tax by getting under the threshold in a different year, it may be worth it to spend the extra money on a short-term deal for a guy that can make a difference in the locker room. If a good portion of the team’s core is staying together, it’s a move that can pay dividends down the road.