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Would signing another player disrupt trade opportunities for the Trail Blazers?

DPEs, TPEs, minimum salary exceptions, open roster spots. What does it all mean?!

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers are running out of players. That’s hardly an exaggeration; last night against the Hornets five of their 14 main roster players were out with injury and Hassan Whiteside was still recovering from an upper respiratory illness. Terry Stotts barely had the NBA requisite eight players at his disposal.

Many have begun to wonder if there’s any way for the Blazers to bring in reinforcements. Not surprisingly, Blazers fans are nothing if not laser-focused, this minor point has led to some misunderstanding.

I’m going to use this space to clarify the answers to three common questions about adding another player to fortify the bench. Editorializing will be kept to an extreme minimum.

Can the Blazers add another player?

Yes. NBA teams are allotted 15 spots for their main roster. The Blazers have 14 players under contract and are not hard capped. General Manger Neil Olshey can sign an eligible player to fill out the roster any time he wants. Full stop.

Note that two-way contracts do not count as one of the main roster’s 15.

How can the Blazers add another player?

The Blazers are [way] over the salary cap, but Olshey has three exceptions at his disposal to add another player:

  1. Disabled Player Exception of $2.859 million. The Blazers applied for a DPE after Rodney Hood suffered a season ending injury. Details:
  • Portland can use the exception to sign a player, claim a player off waivers, or acquire a player in trade.
  • The player must be in the final year of his contract.
  • This exception expires on March 15.
  • Although the CBA FAQ and other sites say that a DPE can be used to “replace” an injured player, a DPE does NOT create an extra roster spot. A team must clear a roster spot within the allotted 15 to acquire a player in this manner.
  • DPEs do NOT pro-rate. The Blazers would be on the hook for the salary and consequent luxury tax payment. If Olshey used the full $2.859 million that would translate to about $7.5 million in luxury tax.

2. Traded Player Exceptions of $1.74 million and $1.79 million. The TPEs were generated by trading Caleb Swanigan and Jake Layman and will expire on Feb. 7 and July 8, respectively. Details:

  • TPEs can only be used to acquire a player in trade, not sign a new player.
  • Multiple TPEs cannot be consolidated into a single, larger TPE and cannot be combined with other exceptions.
  • TPEs do not pro-rate.

3. Minimum salary exception. Any NBA team with room on its roster can sign a player to a minimum contract, unless the team is hard capped. We saw the Blazers take advantage of this to sign Carmelo Anthony earlier this season. Details:

  • These contracts DO pro-rate.
  • A player’s minimum salary is determined by his years of experience in the league (i.e. older vets get more money), but the teams only pay the equivalent of a minimum salary for a player with two years of experience. The rest comes from the league’s coffers.*

Will adding a 15th player undermine the Blazers’ ability to make a trade?

There’s been some Internet chatter about whether or not adding a 15th player would reduce Portland’s trade flexibility. The answer, for all practical purposes, is no.

Even if the roster is at 15, options exist that would allow the Blazers to absorb an extra player in an unbalanced trade (i.e. they send out two players but take back three) with very little complication.

Specifically, prior to Jan. 10 they could have added a player on a non-guaranteed minimum contract and cut that player as needed with no consequence.

Similarly, they could sign a player to a 10-day contract now and not renew the contract for a second term if a trade is imminent. In a worst case scenario, they could cut a player before a 10-day contract is over and suffer only a few days of salary consequence.

On Friday, two consecutive 10-day contracts (the most allowed per player) would actually take a player to the Feb. 6 trade deadline — presumably an optimal decision point if we assume that most trades won’t be finalized until the last minute, as usual.

Suffice to say, clearing a roster spot to take back a player in trade would be a simple administrative task, in most cases, for Portland.

These principles also apply to the buy-out market. The Blazers could sign a player using 10-day contracts now to help fortify against injury problems and/or give a prospect a try-out, let that contract expire, and then use any of their exceptions to target appealing buyouts next month. A temporarily full roster is not an impediment to signing a bought-out player in February.

Why hasn’t Olshey signed a 15th player?

I said no editorializing! Argue about it in the comments! But, either way, Olshey will need to consider adding a 15th player soon if some of the current Blazers don’t get healthy.

*Want to add some insult to injury? Since Mario Hezonja has an option year the Blazers are on the hook for about $100,000 more in salary (plus tax!) this season than if they had signed Hezonja to a one-year deal.