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B/R: Nurkic and Napier Among Top Restricted Free Agent “Flight Risks”

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Dan Favale of Bleacher Report sees Portland’s financial situation as a major obstacle for re-signing two of their biggest contributors.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

After dealing Noah Vonleh, the Portland Trail Blazers will have three restricted free agents this summer: Jusuf Nurkic, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton — provided each receive a qualifying offer. Yet, the team’s cap situation is still clogged, and they barely avoided luxury tax payments with the Vonleh deal.

With the tax inevitable, barring changes, Dan Favale of Bleacher Report sees Napier and Nurkic as two big “flight risks.” First is Napier, who’s in the “Red-Alert” tier:

Portland doesn’t have to worry about an admirer awarding Napier a starting spot or the payday that comes with it. That gig and team isn’t out there. But Lillard and McCollum make a combined $53.8 million next year, $57.4 million in 2019-20 and $61 million in 2020-21.

Allocating anything more than minimumish money to another guard doesn’t sit right—especially when Evan Turner has two years and $36.5 million left on his deal and the Blazers will need a minor miracle (or Jusuf Nurkic exit) to evade the luxury tax.

Favale recounts the previously reported interest teams will have in CJ McCollum this summer if the Blazers disappoint to end the season. Dealing him could open up room, but president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has remained committed.

Nurkic isn’t like Napier, being one of the team’s clear-cut starters, yet he’s not the proven talent Portland should want to lock down at the 5-spot, according to Favale:

Jusuf Nurkic is not here, among the he-probably-gones, because he’s played his way into a massive offer sheet from other teams. He’s here because he’s not worth paying the luxury tax to keep.

The Blazers land within $10 million of that dreaded threshold before poring over new contracts for Nurkic and Napier. Signing Nurkic alone, even at a relatively reasonable rate, drags them right up to or past the expected $123 million tax.

Another dip in the salary-cap projections would only complicate matters. And again: Nurkic isn’t playing like he’s worth the subsequent headaches—be it the tax itself, ensuing contract dumps or the decision to stretch Meyers Leonard.

Eric Griffith here at Blazer’s Edge recently answered a handful of questions about Portland’s current cap situation.

You can read the rest of Favale’s piece here, which examines other flight risks around the league as well.