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Nurkic Injury Will Save Trail Blazers Tax Dollars

Portland will be over the luxury tax threshold this season, but not quite as far as projected.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers head into the 2019-20 NBA season with a $148.8 million salary cap obligation, the highest in the league. If they remain at that level through Game 82, they’ll be staring down a hefty luxury tax penalty.

In an Insider article yesterday [subscription required], Bobby Marks of ESPN highlighted a small financial break for Portland, courtesy of an incentive clause in the contract of center Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic is rehabbing a fractured left leg with an indefinite return date. As a result, he’s not expected to qualify for the bonus.

Marks explains:

The Blazers will see their luxury tax penalty decrease from $22.2 million to $19 million before we even get to Dec 1.

The savings are a result of Jusuf Nurkic being likely to miss the early part of the season as he rehabs from a fractured left tibia and fibula. Nurkic earned a $1.25 million bonus in 2018-19 when he appeared in more than 70 games and the Trail Blazers won more than 50 games, but he’s not expected to return in time to reach that criteria this season.”

Though the amount may be insignificant to all but the Trail Blazers’ accounting staff, a $1.25 million payout evoking $3.2 million in penalties highlights financial reality for the club this year. Taking on $5 million extra in salary—a modest proposal during normal trade-deadline negotiations—becomes a daunting prospect when every dollar is all but tripled.