Perhaps the most interesting part of Portland’s trade to acquire Rodney Hood over the weekend (at least to cap nerds like myself) wasn’t reported until Tuesday morning, when Bobby Marks tweeted that the Trail Blazers did not use the traded player exception acquired in the Noah Vonleh trade last February to take on Hood, instead keeping that open for another move this week:
Minor cap note from the Rodney Hood trade on Monday. Portland still has a $3.5M trade exception and elected to pass on creating 2 small exceptions worth $1.5M. The large exception expires on Feb. 8 but gives the Trail Blazers an additional asset heading into the deadline.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 5, 2019
Rather than taking two trade exceptions for the values of Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin’s contracts, they’ll keep the Vonleh exception on the books until it’s either used or expires the day after the trade deadline. This would indicate that Portland expects to be active in the final hours before the clock runs out on February 7, though it’s by no means a certainty. The two exceptions created by trading Stauskas and Baldwin are not allowed to be combined together or with other salary to take on a player making more than those individual values, and since both would be below the two-year veteran’s minimum for next season, it’s likely that they would have been largely useless after Thursday’s deadline passed.
With the Blazers (still) armed with that trade exception, what can they do to fill their final roster spot and improve the team in a playoff environment?
Atlanta has been reportedly listening to offers on Taurean Prince. The third-year wing out of Baylor brings the promise of 3-and-D upside, though his work on the defensive end has waxed and waned over the last year and a half since the Hawks decided to slog through a rebuild. Once thought to be a flash in the pan, the three-point shot is real, and although he can be a bit trigger-happy at times, those bad habits could be quickly snuffed out in Portland’s culture. Prince’s flaws are mostly in his tendencies – effort and shot selection issues should be fixable by Terry Stotts’ coaching staff and the on-court leadership of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The asking price might be a little steep for the Trail Blazers, however, as the Hawks are looking for a young player and a first-rounder to move Prince, but the upside in that move could be tremendous. He still has another year on his rookie scale contract before he becomes more expensive, which means the Trail Blazers wouldn’t solely be buying in on a player who can only help them this year before walking in free agency.
If they wanted a more proven shooter who would also be less expensive in a trade, New Orleans’ Darius Miller would be a good option. At the cost of a second-round pick, the Pelicans would likely sell on Miller, who makes $2.2 million this year but is headed for unrestricted free agency at the end of the year. New Orleans is knee deep in trade drama at the moment with Anthony Davis, but they’re not going anywhere from a competitive point of view and the rest of their veteran players should be on the block as well. A larger move to obtain Nikola Mirotic would be even better for Portland, but his salary doesn’t fit the parameters of the Vonleh trade exception.
In the vein of proven commodities, Washington’s Jeff Green is likely available for almost nothing. Given the Wizards tax situation, Portland might even be able to pick up a small asset or some cash to take on his minimum salary. Green’s more of an all-around player than Miller, with the ability to play small-ball center and be a featured part of the offense for stretches. Stotts has changed up his rotations this year to feature more minutes with both Lillard and McCollum in the game, and therefore more minutes with both of them on the bench. Green’s ability to keep an offense afloat during these minutes would be useful to the Trail Blazers, even if those times will be fewer and further between come playoff time. Portland has actually fared relatively well in minutes without their two stars in the game, mostly on the back of a strong defense, but those units may be more unreliable in the playoffs. A scoring boost off the bench would help make those minutes more palatable and the idea that they might even get an asset or cash from Washington to make the deal work is the icing on the cake.
Should Portland choose to go younger but find Atlanta’s asking price for Prince to be too high, Minnesota’s Tyus Jones would be a less expensive option. Jones is coming up on restricted free agency this summer and has been very limited in his playing time throughout his time with the Timberwolves, despite being a positive contributor for them off the bench. If the Timberwolves don’t want to deal with his free agency this year or don’t value him as much as the Trail Blazers do, he could likely be obtained for a second-round pick.
While not a necessity, the Trail Blazers opted to retain the Vonleh exception and will have the opportunity to put it to use over the next day or so before the trade deadline passes and it’s usefulness expires. Doing so would likely increase Portland’s luxury tax payment this year – and the other path for them would be to trade their way out of the tax – but if they see an opening to compete for a berth in the Western Conference Finals, another contributor might just be what puts them over the top.