The Trail Blazers have swapped Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore.
I’ll save the flowery introduction and cut to the thesis: this trade is fine. It’ll be tough to say more than that until we see what other moves the team makes over the next few months.
Despite his positive locker room presence and congenial outgoing personality, Turner was never a great fit for the Blazers on the court. His defense and playmaking offered some serviceable minutes, but with so few shooters on the roster head coach Terry Stotts struggled to find lineups that could maximize Turner’s skillset without devolving into an ET-centric attack. Not ideal.
Bazemore is, theoretically, a better 3-point shooter (although his numbers last year weren’t great) and can replicate Turner’s defensive skill. Bazemore is a bit smaller than Turner and so may not have the same defensive versatility, but in the smallball era he’ll be big enough to play alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Tl;dr: Bazemore replacing Turner probably makes the Blazers slightly better.
But there’s a catch: According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Bazemore is also intended as a replacement for Rodney Hood.
Cap neutral deal for Blazers and Hawks. Portland acquires a wing in Bazemore who'll provide an insurance policy on free agent Rodney Hood. Hood's market value exceeds Portland's ability to keep him using the taxpayer MLE. https://t.co/V1XXBYubmy— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 24, 2019
It’s unclear if Bazemore is actually as good as Hood, despite the massive contract, or can create his own shot as well as Hood. The success of this trade will largely hinge on the answers to those questions.
It’s also unclear if Bazemore can address the Blazers’ multi-year deficiency at small forward, or if he’ll assume Hood’s role as backup wing player. Ideally Hood’s replacement would have been a sure-fire starter.
So this trade made the Blazers better?
It’s unclear whether the Blazers are better on June 25 than they were on April 25. Swapping out Bazemore for Turner is a probable positive move, but it gets murkier if Woj’s analysis is correct that Bazemore is replacing Hood AND Turner.
Many fans may not have enjoyed watching ET play, but the bottom line is that he’s a serviceable veteran who can competently soak up regular season minutes. Given the choice, you’d take a roster with Hood and Turner over a roster with just Bazemore. As of now, it seems that the Blazers are slightly worse than they were two months ago.
What’s the financial cost of the Turner/Bazemore trade?
This trade was touted as salary neutral on Twitter by the talking heads but that’s not quite true. Bazemore’s deal is about $663,000 more than Turner’s and that’s going to have a big impact on the Blazers’ bottom line:
However, it's worth noting that the $663k will carry a luxury tax bill of something in the neighborhood of $1.66 million.— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) June 24, 2019
Coupled with adding Kanter and Hood despite the tax at the trade deadline, it's great to see Blazers spending money to keep a WCF team competitive.
The Blazers also added Jaylen Hoard to a two-way deal on draft night, which won’t affect the luxury tax but does represent more financial investment.
The increased willingness since February to take on more financial obligations to improve the basketball product, even around the margins, is a welcome trend from Jody Allen.
What does this say about the Blazers big picture plans?
We’ve talked in other articles about the possibility of the Blazers unlocking the full Mid-Level Exception (MLE) and Biannual Exception (BAE) by shedding payroll obligation. Adding Bazemore’s additional salary may imply the MLE and BAE are not high priorities — it’s still not impossible, but it just got slightly more difficult.
The all-in trade for someone like Blake Griffin could still be on the table. Tuner’s likely role as salary filler and expiring contract can now be played by Bazemore. Bazemore can’t be traded as part of a package for two months, but that would still leave more than six months to create the blockbuster deal before the trade deadline.
Reading the tea leaves, snagging Bazemore seems like a treading water move. For now, Olshey will continue to focus on using the limited financial assets available to either re-sign Enes Kanter and Seth Curry or find suitable replacements. Bazemore serves a dual purpose as a replacement for Hood and a large contract that can be used for salary matching in a bigger trade. Olshey can re-evaluate the team at the trade deadline and choose to keep Bazemore if he can’t negotiate an all-in trade and in the interim Bazemore can serve as a competent rotation player.
In short, the Blazers have found a replacement for Hood without sacrificing the capacity to make larger trades with expiring contracts. As intimated above, essentially rolling Hood and Turner into a single contract isn’t ideal, but it’s not an awful adaptation to the team’s financial constraints either. The overall impact of the trade will remain difficult to judge until subsequent moves are made in July.
What about Anfernee Simons?
Several readers have asked on Twitter and in comments if this trade opens the door for a rotation spot for Anfernee Simons. The answer is that it’s too early to tell. The Blazers will, at the very least, make more moves using the taxpayer mid-level exception and minimum contract exceptions. Harkless and/or Meyers Leonard could still be traded. Any of those assets could be used to bring in a third guard to play in front of Simons. The roster will continue to evolve over the next month (at least!) making it impossible to judge Simons’ role or Bazemore’s ultimate fit.