The fact that the Portland Trail Blazers will be financially limited this upcoming off-season is no secret. They already have over $110 million in guaranteed contracts on the books for the 2018-19 season, well over the projected $101 million salary cap and encroaching on the projected luxury tax threshold, just shy of $121 million. On top of all that, Jusuf Nurkic, Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton and Ed Davis are scheduled for free agency this summer. Clearly the Blazers face significant personnel decisions in the near future. Finances may prove a prime factor, but if Portland expects to remain competitive in the next couple of seasons, veteran talent matters too. If that’s the case, they will do what it takes to re-sign center Davis, their unrestricted free agent to be.
After being hampered last season with a shoulder injury (which eventually required surgery), Davis is healthy and putting together an impressive season for the Blazers. He entered the week averaging 5.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and nearly one block per game. But the most important thing Easy Ed brings to the table won’t be found on any stat sheet: his energy. At 28, plays with a tenacious, infectious motor. That kind of player often finds themselves on championship-caliber teams. Portland is clearly not in that category yet, but retaining him would help steer them in the right direction.
It is possible, but extremely unlikely, that the Trail Blazers could keep all four of their upcoming free agents. Doing so would put them well above the luxury tax threshold, costing the team a significant amount in tax payments. Likely they’ll need to let some of those players walk.
Of the four, Nurkic and Davis would be most difficult to replace, because of their position. It’s hard to imagine the Blazers letting both players go. However, it would also hard to envision the team keeping both centers, which creates quite the conundrum.
Nurkic, 23, has the higher ceiling, but he also has the lowest cellar. Inconsistency has plagued him all season, though he has put together a solid stretch of performances bracketing the All-Star break. Davis, on the other hand, gives the Blazers a bankable performance on a night-to-night basis. He also provides invaluable mentorship for the team’s rookie bigs—Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan.
Speaking of Collins, his recent strong play could lead the team to peg him as the center of the future, in which case they may elect to let Nurkic walk in free agency. Collins needs to add strength going forward, but that should be possible for a player only 20 years old. In the meantime, there’s Ed.
One thing working in Portland’s favor is the fact that Davis likes the franchise. The eighth-year man out of North Carolina told The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman before the trade deadline that he would prefer to finish his career in a Blazer uniform. The deadline came and went, with Ed staying put, churning out solid performances along the way. The veteran also has the support of the franchise’s cornerstone player, Damian Lillard, who has openly campaigned to keep Davis in town.
Davis is a professional athlete. He’s not going to play for nothing. Absent significant personnel changes, the Blazers will surpass the luxury tax threshold with or without signing him, it’s just a matter of how much. He has proven his worth over the past three seasons. If the team wants to advance in the playoffs, they are going to need players like Davis around to accomplish that feat, even if it costs them.