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Nurk’s Contract and Late-Free Agency FAQ

The Portland Trail Blazers still have a few decisions to make, but their free agency strategy is coming into focus. Eric Griffith breaks down some frequently asked questions about their remaining options.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders broke additional details on Trail Blazers’ center’s Jusuf Nurkic’s new contract yesterday. With that information, plus the signing of Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, and Gary Trent Jr., general manager Neil Olshey has few free agency options remaining. Here are some FAQs about those remaining choices:

Jusuf Nurkic’s New Deal

Some of Nurkic’s deal is incentives. What does that mean? Pincus reported that Nurkic’s contract includes $6 million in unlikely incentives (aka: bonuses). Several types of incentives can be added to NBA contracts but, generally speaking, only concretely measurable metrics can be classified as “likely” or “unlikely.” Thus we can assume that Nurkic’s incentives are either statistical benchmarks (e.g. appear in 70 games, Blazers win 50 or more games) or being named to an all-league team/winning a league-wide award (e.g. second team All-Defense).

What does this mean for the salary cap? Similar to Maurice Harkless’ 3-point shooting percentage bonus for the 2016-17 season, Nurkic’s incentives are currently NOT figured into the team’s estimated salary cap figure for the 2018-19 season. If Nurkic achieves the benchmark that money will be added at the end of the year when the final payroll is calculated.

How is “unlikely” vs. “likely” determined? Likely vs. unlikely bonus classifications are determined entirely by whether or not that benchmark was hit in the previous season. If Nurkic hits an incentive benchmark in 2018-19, that incentive will convert to “likely” for 2019-20 and be factored into the team’s payroll estimates from day 1 of the season onward.

Some of Nurkic’s deal is non-guaranteed. Why? Nurkic’s deal runs until 2022, into the potentially post-Damian Lillard era (but not the post-Nicholson era...). If the Blazers do choose to make a hard reset between now and then Nurkic can be easily traded.

Is this a good deal? Ignoring all the surrounding cap hubbub, and debates about whether or not signing players to middle-of-the-road deals is viable, this is a good deal for the Blazers. Nurkic should easily be able to live up to the salary and has potential to exceed it.

Adding More Players

Can the Blazers still sign new players? The Blazers can sign free agents using the minimum salary exception. This limits players to the minimum salary, by definition, and a two-year contract. They have no other way to sign more players.

What about the traded player exceptions? The Blazers can use the TPEs from the Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh trade to acquire players from another team. Those exceptions cannot be used to sign free agents and cannot be combined with other players to create more complicated trades.

Are they going to use either the minimum salary exception or the TPEs? Magic 8-ball says “seems unlikely.” Finding a useful (key adjective here) player that another team wants to salary dump before the $13 million Crabbe trade exception expires on July 25 probably won’t happen. If another team is looking to shed salary mid-season it may be possible to use the $3.5 million Vonleh TPE before it expires on Feb. 8, 2019.

Guarantee Dates for Baldwin and Papa G:

What’s up with Wade Baldwin and Georgios Papagiannis? They are both on minimum salary deals that become fully guaranteed on July 19. The Blazers have 14 guaranteed contracts so it’s likely one of those two will be cut before the salaries are guaranteed.

Can that guarantee date be changed? The guarantee date for either player can be pushed back if both the team and player agree. The Blazers made a move to delay Pat Connaughton’s guarantee date last summer, and it would not be surprising to see them do it again here.

Luxury Tax?

What’s up with the luxury tax? The Blazers current cap situation is interesting, but not necessarily indicative.

Of course, this does not necessarily mean THE plan is sneak under the tax again — rather it could be A plan in the event that the Blazers look particularly abysmal heading into February. Again, Baldwin and Papagiannis are the players to watch. If either of those players are on the team with guaranteed salaries on opening night it becomes more difficult to dip under the tax.

Any other questions? Let me know in the comments or reach out on Twitter (@EricG_NBA)!