FanPost

Blazers 2020 Cap Room - Think Ahead - UPDATED After Pau Gasol Signing

UPDATED AFTER 2019 NBA DRAFT - The Blazers drafted Nassir Little with their #25 pick.

UPDATED AFTER BAZEMORE TRADE - The Blazers traded Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore.

UPDATED JULY 3 - After acquisition of Rodney Hood, Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, & Anthony Tolliver

UPDATED JULY 3 - After trade of Jake Layman

UPDATED JULY 25 - After Pau Gasol signing

In a previous FanPost I discussed the Blazers 2019-20 Salary Cap.

This FanPost discusses the Blazers' opportunity to remake their roster in the summer of 2020.

Summer 2020 Is A Year Away

Why talk about the summer of 2020 and the 2020-21 roster now? Because what the Blazers do with contracts this season will have a dramatic effect on the opportunities they will have in 2020-21. And those opportunities could include more than $21M in cap room plus additional tools (Exceptions) to remake the roster around their core of Dame, CJ, and Nurk.

Let’s Just Do A Big Trade

It would be Fan-tastic to trade our expiring contracts (Whiteside and/or Bazemore), with only a draft pick or two, for an All-star or another CJ or Nurk level starter. I call those Sweetheart Deals if we get a starting SF or PF and give up none of our core or high potential players. Heck, for the right player I’ll toss in Trent or Simons too. We got a Sweetheart Deal when we traded for Nurk. But don’t count on that lightning striking the Blazers twice.

Or, how about trading CJ or Nurk for an elite player? We can’t rule that out, but we know the bonds that exist between Dame and CJ, Dame and Nurk, and how Neil views his Dame-CJ backcourt. And we should realize the unlikelihood of making trades of that magnitude without creating a new roster hole while trying to fill an existing hole.

So although we can’t rule out The Big Trade That Changes Everything this season, counting on it to happen is beyond foolish. We need to look ahead and see what the Blazers can do in 2020-21 if it doesn’t happen.

2020-21 BASELINE ROSTER & CAP ROOM

Before I bore you with more than you want to know about Cap Room, here’s the bottom line (which is actually only our starting line). If the Blazers don’t add any more players with contracts that extend beyond 2019-20, they will enter the 2020-21 summer with 7 players under guaranteed contracts and 2 players, Hood and Hezonja, with Player Options.

Hezonja is starting his 4th year and playing under a minimum salary contract. He will likely decline his option in order to pursue a better contract if he plays well, and may still decline his option to move on if he doesn't get enough opportunities here. Hood will make slightly less than the TaxPayer Mid-Level Exception next year, so he will likely decline his option to get a better contract in the cap room rich NBA next summer.

Should both of those players exercise their options and leave, the Blazers will have $21.1M in Cap Room (I'll list alternative scenarios later).

PORTLAND 2020-21
1 Damian Lillard 31,626,953
2 C.J. McCollum 29,354,152
3 Jusuf Nurkic 12,888,889
4 Zach Collins (4th year) 5,406,255
5 Anfernee Simons (3rd year) 2,252,040
6 Nassir Little 2,207,880
7 Gary Trent Jr (3rd year) 1,663,861
8 Roster Charge 955,000
9 Roster Charge 955,000
10 Roster Charge 955,000
11 Roster Charge 955,000
12 Roster Charge 955,000
13 New Player
14 New Player
15 Empty
Subtotal (12 Players) 90,175,030
Dead Money 4,757,775
Subtotal w/Dead Money 94,932,805
Salary Cap 116,000,000
Over Cap (21,067,195)

It may appear that 7 or 8 roster spots have to be filled with that $21.1M of Cap Room. That is NOT the case. Below I will take you step-by-step through a simple scenario to show how the Blazers can actually spend more than $33M to create their 2020-21 roster.

But first, I’ll explain how Roster Charges, Dead Money, and Cap Holds determine Team Salary and Room. And then how to use the Room Exception and Minimum Salary Exceptions to complete the roster. If you are already familiar with those concepts, just skip ahead to BUILDING THE 2020-21 ROSTER.

TEAM SALARY & ROOM

Team Salary determines how much Room (a CBA defined term) the Blazers have under the Salary Cap, or if they are over the Salary Cap. Team Salary consists of multiple components, but for our purposes it is the sum of the Salaries of the players under contract, Dead Money owed to waived players, and Cap Holds.

Room is defined as the difference between the Team Salary and the Salary Cap. It is the maximum amount of money, at any particular point in time, that can be spent on a Free Agent, or to execute a trade that increases the Team Salary, without using some type of Exception. But Room can NOT be aggregated with other Exceptions to acquire a player.

If between now and July 1, 2020, the Blazers add no players to their roster with contracts extending past the 2019-20 season, they could then have only 7 players under contract with a total salary of $85.4M if Hood and Hezonja leave. They will also have $4.76M of Dead Money (the stretched contracts of Varejao and Nicholson).

Temporary Cap Holds are incurred from Incomplete Roster Charges until the roster has 12 players ($955K for each open roster slot less than 12 players in 2020). With only 7 players under contract, Incomplete Roster Charges would add $4.8M of Cap Holds.

There will also be a Cap Hold in the Team Salary for each un-renounced Free Agent (FA). I've assumed all FA’s are renounced to compute the maximum available Room.

The 2020-21 Salary Cap is projected to be $116M. Therefore, the Blazers would have $21.1M of Room with their Free Agents renounced.

LOSS OF EXCEPTIONS

One of the questions most often asked is whether a team can use Room under the Salary Cap to sign FA’s or make trades, and then when the Room is consumed use the Non-Taxpayer MLE (Mid-Level Exception) or BAE (Bi-Annual Exception) to go over the Salary Cap to sign another FA, or use a TPE (Traded Player Exception) from a previous trade to acquire another player in a trade. The answer is NO!

The CBA rather cleverly prevents this sort of double-dipping. If a team’s Room becomes greater than the value of those Exceptions, those Exceptions are lost for that season. Otherwise the value of those Exceptions are considered added to the Team Salary, which pushes the Team Salary over the Salary Cap so there is no Room to use. In the latter case, if the team wishes to use Room (which is more versatile than the Exceptions) it can renounce the Exceptions.

So, a team can NOT use both Room and any of those Exceptions in the same year. However, there’s a twist. It’s the Room Mid-Level Exception.

ROOM MID-LEVEL EXCEPTION

Team’s that go far enough under the Salary Cap that they lose their other MLE’s and BAE, receive a Room MLE that can be used to sign FA’s to contracts of 2 years or less. The Room MLE is projected to be $5.1M for 2020-21.

FREE AGENT CAP HOLDS

As of now, the Blazers have 5 players with contracts that will expire at the end of the 2019-20 season, and 2 players with Player Options that can end their contracts. All players with contracts that end become Free Agents. Each Free Agent initially has a cap hold based on their previous salary.

The 2020-21 Cap Holds for players currently under contract:

Player / Status / Blazers Maximum Offer / Cap Hold

Hood / Early Bird (if player option declined) / $10.0M (1.75x salary) / $7.4M (1.3x salary)

Hezonja / Non-Bird (if player option declined) / $2.1M (1.2x salary) / $2.1M (1.2x salary)

Whiteside / Bird / Player's Maximum / $34.8M (1.5x salary, limited by his maximum salary)

Bazemore / Bird / Player's Maximum / $28.9M (1.5x salary)

Tolliver / Non-Bird / $3.1M (1.2x salary) / $3.1M (1.2x salary)

Gasol / Non-Bird / $3.1M (1.2x salary) / $3.1M (1.2x salary)

Labissiere / RFA ($3.5M QO) / Bird / Players Maximum / $7.0M (3.0x rookie scale salary is below the NBA average salary)

As you can see the Cap Holds are very large. With those Cap Holds the Team Salary would be about $174M, which is $58M over the Salary Cap. The Blazers would only have a $6.1M TaxPayer Mid Level Exception to spend on Free Agents, and as a taxpaying team would be limited to trades with 125% salary matches. However, they could re-sign any of those Free Agents up to the maximum salaries listed above (based on their years of experience) using the various forms of their Bird Rights as listed above.

There are two ways the Blazers can remove the FA Cap Holds. They can negotiate and re-sign their own FA’s, in which case the Cap Hold is replaced in the Team Salary by the new (presumably smaller) salary. Or they could Renounce a Free Agent to remove a Cap Hold entirely from the Team Salary.

RENOUNCEMENT

If a Free Agent is Renounced his Bird Rights are lost. They could still re-sign that Free Agent later, but then they must have sufficient Room for his new salary under the Salary Cap, use the Room MLE, or use a Mid-Level or Bi-Annual Exception if they stay over the Salary Cap.

Teams do not have to renounce their free agents until the Cap Hold amounts are actually needed. So if the Blazers were uncertain about whether they wanted to re-sign one of their free agents they can wait until they need the Room to sign an external free agent or make a trade. Of course, the FA may decide to sign elsewhere in the interim.

BUILDING THE 2020-21 ROSTER

This is where everyone can take their best shot at how to use the $21.1M in Room to rebuild the Blazers roster. I’ll present a single scenario out of dozens of possibilities. In fact, the point of having that much Room is to take advantage of opportunities, possibly pre-planned, or perhaps more likely, an unpredictable uneven trade opportunity that materializes as other teams manipulate their rosters to create Room or positional slots for free agents. Hopefully there will be some interesting scenarios in the comments.

My Roster Goal

My goal, within this overall 2020 Cap Room Strategy, would be to acquire a talented, legitimate starting SF (preferably) to complete a starting lineup with Dame, CJ, Nurk, and Zach. I’m not expecting an all-star level player (we couldn’t afford one anyway after we extend Dame, CJ, Nurk, and Zach) but rather a consistent 4th scorer to add to the front line defense of Zach and Nurk. Although I believe Zach will become a better Center than PF, I’m hopeful he will develop sufficient skills (2020 will be his 4th year) to start at PF and then back up Nurk at Center when we rotate in a PF off the bench. i.e. a 3-man Big rotation.

Not unlike draft strategies, I would consider BPA (Best Player Available) if that turned out to be a PF or a Shooting Guard. Those acquisitions could open up eventual trade scenarios with Zach, Nurk, or CJ. Or perhaps we fall just short of the perfect fit for the starting lineup and acquire an elite 6th man. Again, having Room is all about taking advantage of any opportunities to significantly upgrade the team.

And I don’t consider the roster makeover to be done in 2020-21. It’s probably only the penultimate year. The following year, 2021-22, is likely when we finish the job with a major final-piece trade. We should have a lot of veteran talent to possibly trade - CJ, Nurk, and others we add, plus younger-but-experienced assets in Zach, Simons, Trent as well as Skal and Little. And then add one more MLE player to the roster.

Draft Picks

I haven’t included any 2020 draft picks in my scenario. I don’t see the comparative value of using up 2020-21 Room to add a #20-ish draft pick next year, when we already have Zach, Simons, Trent, Skal, and Little to develop next year and beyond. But if you want to add draft picks to your scenario, a #20 pick in 2020 is projected to cost $2.74M.

A Scenario Example - Step by Step

There are several Room scenarios depending on how Hood and Hezonja use their Player Options.

Maximum Cap Room - $21.1M, Both Hood and Hezonja decline their Player Options and leave.

Almost Maximum Cap Room - $20.1M, Hood declines his Player Option and leaves. Hezonja exercises his Player Option and stays.

Minimum Cap Room - $15.0M, Both Hood and Hezonja exercise their Player Options and stay.

Almost Minimum Cap Room - $16.0M, Hezonja declines his Player Option and leaves. Hood exercises his Player Option and stays.

For this example I'll use the Almost Minimum Cap Room scenario

To make this example easier to follow I’ve labeled each of the remaining open roster spots according to its eventual usage.

PORTLAND 2020-21
1 Damian Lillard 31,626,953
2 C.J. McCollum 29,354,152
3 Jusuf Nurkic 12,888,889
4 Rodney Hood 5,985,000
5 Zach Collins (4th year) 5,406,255
6 Anfernee Simons (3rd year) 2,252,040
7 Nassir Little 2,207,880
8 Gary Trent Jr (3rd year) 1,663,861
9 Vet Starter 955,000
10 Vet using cap room 955,000
11 Room Exception 955,000
12 Roster Charge 955,000
13 New Player
14 New Player
15 Empty
Subtotal (14 Players) 95,205,030
Dead Money 4,757,775
Subtotal w/Dead Money 99,962,805
Salary Cap 116,000,000
Over Cap (16,037,195)

We begin with $16.0M in Room, 8 players, and 4 Roster Charges. We could spend the entire $16.0M on one FA starter, but that would only leave us with the Room Exception and Minimum Salary Exception players to eventually fill out a 14 man roster.

STEP 1 – I’ll assume we spend $14M on a starting SF either as a free agent or acquired in an uneven trade. That’s $4.2M (43%) more than the Non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, giving us a huge advantage over MLE teams and those teams with some remaining cap room left after the really elite free agents have been swept up early in the free agency period. It’s also a very sizable amount that could be used to pick up a starter in an uneven trade, opening more opportunities to take advantage of other teams manipulating their rosters while hunting big name free agents.

PORTLAND 2020-21
1 Damian Lillard 31,626,953
2 C.J. McCollum 29,354,152
3 Jusuf Nurkic 12,888,889
4 Rodney Hood 5,985,000
5 Zach Collins (4th year) 5,406,255
6 Anfernee Simons (3rd year) 2,252,040
7 Nassir Little 2,207,880
8 Gary Trent Jr (3rd year) 1,663,861
9 Vet Starter 14,000,000
10 Vet using cap room 955,000
11 Room Exception 955,000
12 Roster Charge 955,000
13 New Player
14 New Player
15 Empty
Subtotal (14 Players) 108,250,030
Dead Money 4,757,775
Subtotal w/Dead Money 113,007,805
Salary Cap 116,000,000
Over Cap (2,992,195)

That leaves $3.0M of Room left.

STEP 2 – I’ll spend the $3.0M (more than the $2.8M we paid Curry last year) on another veteran rotation player via FA or uneven trade.

PORTLAND 2020-21
1 Damian Lillard 31,626,953
2 C.J. McCollum 29,354,152
3 Jusuf Nurkic 12,888,889
4 Rodney Hood 5,985,000
5 Zach Collins (4th year) 5,406,255
6 Anfernee Simons (3rd year) 2,252,040
7 Nassir Little 2,207,880
8 Gary Trent Jr (3rd year) 1,663,861
9 Vet Starter 14,000,000
10 Vet using cap room 3,000,000
11 Room Exception 955,000
12 Roster Charge 955,000
13 New Player
14 New Player
15 Empty
Subtotal (14 Players) 110,295,030
Dead Money 4,757,775
Subtotal w/Dead Money 115,052,805
Salary Cap 116,000,000
Over Cap (947,195)

I've now spent virtually all of the Room.

STEP 3 – Add another veteran FA player with the $5.1M Room Exception (or it could be split into two FA’s)

PORTLAND 2020-21
1 Damian Lillard 31,626,953
2 C.J. McCollum 29,354,152
3 Jusuf Nurkic 12,888,889
4 Rodney Hood 5,985,000
5 Zach Collins (4th year) 5,406,255
6 Anfernee Simons (3rd year) 2,252,040
7 Nassir Little 2,207,880
8 Gary Trent Jr (3rd year) 1,663,861
9 Vet Starter 14,000,000
10 Vet using cap room 3,000,000
11 Room Exception 5,100,000
12 Roster Charge 955,000
13 New Player
14 New Player
15 Empty
Subtotal (14 Players) 114,440,030
Dead Money 4,757,775
Subtotal w/Dead Money 119,197,805
Salary Cap 116,000,000
Over Cap 3,197,805

I'm finally back over the cap by $3.2M.

STEP 4 – Now I must fill out the roster (must have 14 players) with rookies (but not 1st round draft picks) or veteran players on minimum salary contracts. I like vets, and here's how that works.

Minimum Salary Contract Exception

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 2nd round draft picks and non-drafted rookies will be about $955K for 2020-21. Players with 3 years or more experience can be signed to 1-year minimum salary contracts, which only count against the Team Salary the equivalent of a 2-year player’s minimum salary (about $1.7M), and the league pays the additional part of that players minimum salary.

PORTLAND 2020-21
1 Damian Lillard 31,626,953
2 C.J. McCollum 29,354,152
3 Jusuf Nurkic 12,888,889
4 Rodney Hood 5,985,000
5 Zach Collins (4th year) 5,406,255
6 Anfernee Simons (3rd year) 2,252,040
7 Nassir Little 2,207,880
8 Gary Trent Jr (3rd year) 1,663,861
9 Vet Starter 14,000,000
10 Vet using cap room 3,000,000
11 Room Exception 5,100,000
12 Vet Minimum 1,700,000
13 Vet Minimum 1,700,000
14 Vet Minimum 1,700,000
15 Empty
Subtotal (14 Players) 118,585,030
Dead Money 4,757,775
Subtotal w/Dead Money 123,342,805
Salary Cap 116,000,000
Over Cap 7,342,805
Tax Level 141,000,000
Over Tax Level (17,657,195)

I finish this scenario $7.3M over the Salary Cap, but $17.7M under the luxury tax level in 2020-21.

Total New Player Salaries - Much More Than The Room

It's very important to realize there's a lot more available salary to remake the roster and fill the empty player slots than just the initial Room amount.

In this example the total salaries of the 7 additional players (including Hood) that were added is $33.2M, which is $12.1M more than the initial $21.1M Room. That is because the initial Room included 5 temporary Incomplete Roster Charges, and doesn't include the $5.1M Room Exception, or the veteran Minimum Salary Exceptions.

2021-22

In 2021-22 Dame’s Super-max contract increases by about $11M, and CJ is eligible for about a $7M increase (max contract). That would put us right around the tax threshold. We could still use the Taxpayer MLE ($6.3M) and add a 1st round draft pick to replace 2 of the prior $1.7M vets. However, Zach will be a restricted free agent looking for a big salary, so it’s probably the year we finally look to make a significant trade using our considerable assets (the kids we developed, CJ, Nurk, and the new vets we added). It’s impossible to say what moves we would make then, but we should have a very nice set of assets for deals.

That’s All Folks

If a GM offers Blake Griffin or one of a dozen other Elite guys for just our expiring contracts - any of us will instantly take that deal and start planning The Parade. Short of that, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that something else great, but more realistic, makes this article superfluous. But, I don’t expect that will happen. So I hope Neil doesn’t do something minor that uses up the 2020 Room because of fan impatience, and kills the Last Chance to Really Remake the Roster before Dame's, CJ's, and Nurk’s contract extensions paralyze us again.