Understanding the Blazers 2019 Salary Cap Options - UPDATED Post Draft

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATED AFTER 2019 NBA DRAFT - The Blazers drafted Nassir Little with their #25 pick, which reduces the salary under the hard-cap rule that can be offered to their Non-Bird Free Agents without a salary reducing trade.

This article is a summary of the Blazers current salary situation and a "reference tutorial" on the parts of the CBA Salary Cap rules that specifically apply to their situation.

I put a couple sample scenarios at the end for how the Blazers could use all or most of the Non-Tax-Payer MLE ($9.2M). I’ve been writing about that possibility for several months, but it’s not my intent to recommend a specific scenario.

I've written a separate FanPost about preserving $21M of 2020 Cap Room.


On July 1 the Blazers will have 11 players under contract for the 2019-20 season with a combined salary of $123.8M, if they don't trade anyone before then. By CBA rules that includes a $1.25M "likely bonus" for Nurk, but not a $500K "unlikely bonus" for Harkless. Those are CBA incentive bonus classifications, but they only affect what the Blazers can do in a limited situation, which I will discuss at the end.

The Blazers also have $5.1M of Dead Money (the stretched contracts of the waived players Ezeli, Varejao, and Nicholson), which also counts against their team salary.

Therefore, the total team salary for the 11 players plus the Dead Money is $128.85M. The Salary cap is $109M, putting the Blazers $19.85M over the cap before adding additional players to complete their roster.


Teams are required to carry at least 14 players on their roster, which means the Blazers will have to add at least 3 additional players to the 11 players under contract on July 1.

To add players they can sign Free Agents (including their own) by using a Mid-Level Exception or the Bi-Annual Exception. They can also use Bird and/or Non-Bird Rights to re-sign their own free agents. They can make trades. And they can sign free-agents to minimum salary contracts.


The Blazers used their 1st round #25 draft pick. His salary (at the "standard" 120% of rookie scale) will be $2.1M (already included in the above totals). They did not acquire a 2nd round draft pick, which at the rookie minimum would have been about $900K next year.

FREE AGENTS - Bird and Non-Bird Rights

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) - Aminu, Kanter, Hood, and Curry.

Aminu has full-Bird Rights so the Blazers can offer him any salary up to his maximum (based on 9 years of NBA experience).

The remaining UFA’s only have non-Bird Rights, so the Blazers can only offer them 120% of last year’s salary, UNLESS they use a Mid-Level Exception.

The UFA’s Bird and non-Bird Rights salary limits are -

Aminu - $32.7M - Any takers?
Hood - $4.2M
Curry - $3.4M
Kanter - $1.6M (Kanter is low because he was playing under a minimum contract after being waived by NY.)

Restricted Free Agent (RFA) - Layman, if the Blazers offer him the 1-year Qualifying Offer (QO). Otherwise, he becomes an UFA.

As a RFA Layman can accept the QO offer, negotiate a new contract with Portland, or sign an Offer Sheet (must be 2 guaranteed years or longer) with another team. He has full-Bird Rights, so the Blazers can elect to match any offer sheet he receives.

TRADES - I won’t discuss the usual trade rules except for the Sign-and-Trade option below.


The Tax Payer Mid-Level Exception (TP-MLE) will be about $5.7M. The Blazers may offer it to one of their Non-Bird UFA’s, or use it for any FA on the market. It can also be split up for multiple free agents. It can NOT be combined with Bird or non-Bird Rights, or used for trades.

The Non-TaxPayer Mid-Level Exception (Full-MLE) will be about $9.2M. It can be used instead of the TP-MLE for the same purposes, but if the Blazers use more of it than the TP-MLE amount they become Hard-Capped (see below).

The Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) will be about $3.6M. It can be used this year in addition to one of the MLE’s, and for the same purposes as the MLE’s. But if it’s used the Blazers become Hard-Capped.


The minimum salary exception allows teams to add players at a player’s minimum salary even when the team is over the salary cap and has no other exceptions they can use. The minimum salary for rookies is about $900K next year. Players with 3 years or more experience on a 1-year minimum salary contract count against the team salary the same as a 2-year player’s minimum salary (about $1.6M next year) and the league pays the additional salary to the player.


The Blazers can spend as much on team salary as they wish as long as they do NOT become Hard-Capped. They can use any combination of the above items that don't create a hard-cap. But if they use the Bi-Annual Exception, use any of the Full-MLE amount ($9.2M) that exceeds the TP-MLE amount ($5.7M), or accept a Signed-and-Traded player, they become hard-capped for the rest of the season at the salary Apron ($138.3M). AND they can NOT exceed the Apron when using one of those processes. i.e. they can’t go over the Apron even temporarily using part of the full-MLE.

Hard-capped teams can NOT exceed the Apron for any reason, not even by using the Minimum Salary Exception.

Team salary relative to the hard-cap Apron is calculated slightly differently. All bonus’s, likely or unlikely are counted. Therefore, Harkless’ $500K bonus must be added to the total team salary.


If the Blazers want to use SOME of the $9.2M Full-MLE, possibly to retain one of the Non-Bird Free Agents, they hard-cap themselves. The 11 players under contract, plus the Dead Money, plus Harkless’ bonus, leaves only $8.9M under the Apron to sign 3 players including that Non-Bird FA.

That leaves them a maximum of $7.1M they could spend using part of the Full-MLE.

Maximum Amount of the Full Mid-Level Exception Under the Hard Cap Scenario

Non-Bird FA $7.1M
Rookie $0.9M
Rookie $0.9M
Total $8.9M

Amount of the Full Mid-Level Exception with 1 Minimum Veteran Under the Hard Cap

Non-Bird FA $6.4M
Any veteran on 1-yr contract $1.6M (NBA picks up remaining minimum salary)
Rookie $0.9M
Total $8.9M


A way to free additional room under the Apron in order to use the full-MLE ($9.2M) would be to trade a player for one with a smaller contract, or dump a player for nothing in return using a draft pick. However, it doesn’t do much good to dump a player with a small contract (say Trent for $1.4M) if you then have to replace that roster spot too. So unless a player with a sizable contract is dumped or traded for a smaller contract, not much more of the full-MLE will be available.

Obviously there are many scenarios. For instance, trading Meyers or Mo's $11.3M+ salaries for a useable player with a $6.5M salary would free up an additional $4.8M+ ($13.7M+ total), enough to use the entire full-MLE and the BAE.

Full-MLE/BAE/Rookie Scenario

Non-Bird FA $9.2M
BAE $3.6M
Rookie $0.9M
Total $13.7M

Here are our player salaries so you can create your own scenarios.

PORTLAND 2019-20
1 Damian Lillard 29,802,321
2 C.J. McCollum 27,556,959
3 Evan Turner/Hood 18,606,557
4 Jusuf Nurkic 13,250,000
5 Meyers Leonard/Vet 11,286,517
6 Maurice Harkless/SF 11,011,236
7 Zach Collins 4,240,200
8 Skal Labissiere/Vet 2,338,847
9 Anfernee Simons 2,149,560
10 Gary Trent Jr 1,416,852
11 Nassir Little 2,103,000

Active Roster (11 Players) 123,762,049
Active Roster w/Dead Money 128,853,157
Room Under Apron 9,443,783
Harkless Bonus 500,000
Remaining Room Under Apron 8,943,783