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One Issue Could Kill Portland’s Trade Deadline Hopes

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The Blazers need to dump salary and add talent, but one issue will get in their way.

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NBA Trade Deadline is just days away now and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to make at least one move before the clock strikes midnight. Whether they’ll be able to duck underneath the luxury tax line, add talent, or both remains an open question, but trade proposals and rumors are filling the air in the meantime. Today’s Mailbag question shows that making a splash at the deadline may be harder than Blazers fans think.

Dave,

I got this trade passed in the Trade Machine. What do you think? (Throw in a 1st rounder to CHI from Portland, too.) Do the Bulls say no? They’re going nowhere either way.

Then, in a second deal to get under the tax level, send Ed Davis to someone for a future second rounder or other non-salary asset.

The first deal looks great for the Blazers IMO. You get to dump two big contracts plus getting back RoLo would be a nice replacement for ED, too.

Charlotte being able to dump Howard, I think would take on Meyers in exchange.

Dustin

Yes, the Bulls probably say no. Let’s assume for a moment that the talent matches up well enough for all three teams to consider this move. Let’s even assume that the Bulls, who are “going nowhere anyway” love the idea of getting Dwight Howard. (That would be about the only justification for them agreeing to this trade.) Why wouldn’t Chicago and Charlotte just do this instead?

The reason the second deal is more attractive than the first has less to do with talent than contracts. It gets right to the heart of the issue the Blazers will have trying to dump their less-favored players and/or become facilitators in three-way trades. The important numbers don’t follow dollar signs, nor can they be found on the stat lines of the players involved. Instead look underneath the salaries at number of years. That’s the real killer...not just that they make a bunch of money relative to their production, but that they’ll be paid for so...dang...long.

The Hornets benefit financially in your proposed deal, dropping $13.6 million off of their ledger immediately. But they’re not over the luxury tax threshold and are not projected to be next year. They are well over the cap line, but even dropping $13.6 million won’t get them under. They’d gain no flexibility from your proposal. They would, however, gain an extra third year of Meyers Leonard’s salary.

As bad as it is, Dwight Howard’s contract will be done after next season. At that point Charlotte will be far enough under the cap to make use of the space he leaves behind. In your deal, they’d be spending $11.2 million of that future space on Leonard’s third year, taking a worse player right now then sacrificing opportunity for it later. Even saving money in the meantime, they’d end up getting worked over on both ends. Even though my direct-trade proposal for Nikola Mirotic costs them more than your trade does in the short-term, it gives them far more flexibility and better talent to boot.

(P.S. The deal I proposed also saves Charlotte $18.4 million over the total life of all contracts involved. Your Leonard proposal only saves them $15.5 million even though their first-year cost is higher.)

The difference gets even more dramatic when we consider Chicago. They’re sending out $26.3 million in contracts to the Blazers in the form of Mirotic and Robin Lopez. They’re taking on a whopping $37.2 million in exchange. Even if they dropped Vonleh for nothing at the end of the year, they’d still pay $34.6 million next year, $7.7 million more than they would have paid Lopez and Mirotic. Then in the third year, they’d owe $11.5 million to Moe Harkless when they would have owed nothing otherwise. They’ve added a ton of salary for players that aren’t anywhere near the best in the deal, aren’t their main target, and don’t really add anything to their talent pool, plus they’re paying out more and they’ve lost long-term flexibility.

My deal would cost the Bulls $18.4 million extra over the life of all contracts involved. Your deal would cost them $30.1 million, minimum, $34.8 million if Vonleh played for a one-year qualifying offer. They’d get Dwight Howard either way. All that extra money would be going to two players who can hardly get off of Portland’s bench.

The only people who make out like bandits in your proposal are the Blazers. They’d pay $2.7 million more this year, only $800,000 more next year, then save $22.8 million in the third year of the deal (assuming Vonleh played for a one-year qualifying offer, then left) plus they’d walk away with the best and third-best players in the six-player deal.

You can take heart in the fact that this trade proposal isn’t the worst I’ve received over the last two weeks...not by a long shot. The reason I chose it is because on the surface—considering only talent, broad-stroke finances, and squinting a little—it might be deemed acceptable. Almost. With the requisite dose of Blazers homer-ism in there. It also illustrates perfectly how long, weighty contracts—owned by the exact players everyone hopes the Blazers deal—quickly turn “almost acceptable” into “ludicrous”.

Weird things sometimes happen in the world of NBA trades. But unless you’re treading the edges of probability, if the Portland player you want to trade has “3 Years” under the contract length, don’t expect to move him easily for players on shorter deals.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com or tweet them to @davedeckard!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com