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Filling in the Corners on the Allen Crabbe Trade

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Some folks are confused about what Portland got out of the deal with Brooklyn. We explain.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Last week Allen Crabbe was traded from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Brooklyn Nets for forward Andrew Nicholson, whom Portland is reportedly planning to waive. A deluge of questions followed, most of which are summarized in today’s submission to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

You didn’t say anything about the Crabbe deal! How does this move the team forward? Who do you think we’ll use the new cap space on or the traded exception? Could this be the first step in getting Melo? Do you regard it as a win overall?

Vincent in Tigard

I was on vacation when the Crabbe deal went down. The first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is read Eric Griffith’s summary of the exchange. He covers the effects, both on the court and in the cap ledger.

To your questions...

How does this move the team forward? It doesn’t. That’s not what the move was designed to do. Trading away a 25-year-old shooting guard for a player you can’t use isn’t about making the team better for the future, it’s about rectifying the past.

Crabbe is slated to make between $18.5-19.3 million per year for the next three years. He ended up as a fifth wheel on Portland’s roster, averaging just under 11ppg. Left untouched, his contract would have cost the Blazers $40 million in tax penalties this year alone. When you add in Crabbe’s salary, the Blazers just ducked out of the equivalent of the entire 2013-14 NBA salary cap, taking back only the $2.8 million obligation of Nicholson’s (reportedly) stretched contract in return.

Rephrasing: a single year of Crabbe would have cost the Blazers the equivalent of their entire ‘13-’14 roster...the one with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Mo Williams, et. al. That team won 54 and made it to the second round of the NBA Playoffs; Crabbe gave them 11 points per game. No matter how good of a shooter he is, that wasn’t going to fly. Now you know what this deal was about.

This isn’t an indictment of Crabbe, either. He may well be worth his contract. We’ll find out when he suits up for Brooklyn. But Portland’s situation—both roster and financial—rendered him un-affordable. They signed him but they could not keep him.

As far as cap space after the trade, underline this: the Blazers generated no financial freedom with this move. They didn’t even get themselves below the luxury tax limit, let alone the cap line. Before the trade they could not sign free agents unless they used the taxpayer’s mid-level exception or got someone on a minimum contract. They’re in the exact same situation now: $23 million over the cap.

If you’re considering the trade as the first step in a chain of dominoes, also underline this. In order to gain enough cap room to sign a free agent more expensive than a mid-level exception could bring them, the Blazers would now need to unload Evan Turner AND Meyers Leonard for nothing. Having accomplished that, they could sign a player making $6 million per year or so...hardly a sterling payback for all those moves. This assumes that they’d take zero dollars in return, not even stretching a contract like they are planning with Nicholson. That’s not likely.

The Blazers did acquire a $13 million traded player exception in the Crabbe deal. If another team was willing, Portland could exchange that exception for a player making that much or less without relinquishing any of their own players. The TPE cannot be combined with other exceptions or contracts, so it does nothing to get them Carmelo Anthony, who is set to earn $26 million this year.

But stop and think now: the Blazers traded away Crabbe in the first place because they wanted to duck out of an enormous tax bill. They’re $3 million over the luxury tax mark right now, leaving them with a paltry $4.4 million penalty. If they use their new TPE to bring on a player making $13 million, they’ll be $16 million over the tax threshold. At that point, their penalty would balloon back to $32 million. Dodging out of a financial burden just to pick it right back up again makes little sense.

Odds are the Blazers will let the TPE expire without using it. If they do bring on another player, the incoming salary will need to be small.

As Mr. Griffith pointed out, the Blazers are more likely to trade away another player and get out of tax territory altogether. They still wouldn’t get under the cap but they would avoid triggering the clock on the dreaded “repeater tax” that cripples teams who spend too many years over the threshold. If another move comes, it’ll probably be a salary dump similar to Crabbe’s, on a smaller scale.

And that’s it. There’s no magic to this, no cunning plan. The Crabbe deal bails out the franchise from the financial consequences of their disastrous signings in the Summer of 2016. It absolves them of paying a record amount for a team with a projected win total in the 40’s. That’s a worthy cause, given the circumstances. But it’s less a leap forward than an example of a franchise scrambling to recover from the edge of a precipice it probably shouldn’t have been walking in the first place.

Thanks for the questions! Keep them coming to blazersub@gmail.com.

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