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Analysis: Blazers Acquire Ariza, But More Questions Await

A look at Portland’s present and future after trading Kent Bazemore for Trevor Ariza.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Kent Bazemore era with the Portland Trail Blazers has ended. In his place steps ...Trevor Ariza?!

As of this moment, one thing is certain: The Blazers luxury tax bill has been significantly reduced by General Manager Neil Olshey’s decision to swap out Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and a couple second round draft picks in 2024 and 2025 for Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan.

Beyond that, it’s still unclear what long-term effect, if any, this will have on the Blazers goal of getting back to the Western Conference Finals.

What does this mean for this season?

After 15 years in the NBA, most fans know what the Ariza brings to the table — 3ish-and-D versatility. The veteran has been mostly fine for the Kings this year, hitting his career average 35 percent on 3-pointers while occasionally stuffing the box score and helping Sacramento to a win. Also occasionally fading into irrelevance.

Bazemore, on the other hand, has largely been a disappointment for the Blazers after being thrust into a starting role in a lineup that does not suit his strengths. With little support, the complementary player has struggled to be The Man on defense and hasn’t found a niche on offense.

Ariza will likely be able to offer marginally more impact for the Blazers, but he won’t be enough to turn the season around.

The Blazers reduce their salary by over $5 million with this trade, sending out $20.9 million while taking back “only” $15.7 million. The franchise now stands $6.1 million over the luxury tax threshold and will pay about $9.5 million in tax. Previously they were on the hook for about $18.9 million.

In short, today’s trade saves Jody Allen about $9.4 million.

The Blazers also lose their empty roster spot, which means signing a 10-day player would require Olshey to cut a player with a guaranteed salary. It also may slightly complicate any additional trades.

What about Gabriel, Swanigan, Tolliver, and the draft picks?

The Kings saw enough potential in Gabriel to convert his two-way contract into a main roster contract in October only to dump him as salary fodder three months later. There’s a modicum of upside here but he should be treated as a long shot.

We all know the story with Swanigan and Tolliver.

What does this mean for next season?

This trade does not definitively improve the outlook for next season. Ariza is on the final year of his contract and is due $12.8 million, but only $1.8 million is guaranteed. Bazemore, conversely, has an expiring contract.

Here is the fallout for next season depending on if the Blazers keep Ariza or cut him:

Keeping Ariza:

  • Possibly useful role player for 2020-21
  • 8-figure expiring contract for trades
  • Likely a large luxury tax bill if a Hassan Whiteside trade happens this season, unless Ariza is outright salary-dumped
  • Little or no chance at cap space in July if a Whiteside trade does not happen

Releasing Ariza:

  • Opens up a roster spot
  • If Whiteside trade does not happen: Reduces cap space by $1.8 million
  • If Whiteside trade does happen: Veteran on large contract walks and can likely only be replaced by a minimum salary player

Additionally the Blazers lost two second rounders that could be useful in the future; presumably Sacramento’s asking price for taking on Portland’s salary obligations.

Overall, it’s hard to assess this trade’s long-term implications until after the trade deadline and possibly until July 1, 2020. In general, if Whiteside is traded and the Blazers are willing to pay Ariza next season then it’s hopefully a success.

On the other hand, if the Blazers cut Ariza in June they’ve essentially turned the much-touted Bazemore expiring contract into nothing more than extra salary obligation in 2020-21 and a loss of two second round draft picks.

The latter scenario does not inspire confidence.

Wait, this trade hasn’t actually happened yet?

The Kings signed Gabriel on Oct. 21. By rule, he can’t be traded for three months so this trade will not be official until Jan. 21. The Blazers will be short-handed until then. Jason Quick confirmed on Twitter (note the rule is technically three months, not 90 days):

How did the salaries work?

As mentioned above, the Kings received about $5 million more in salary than they sent out. They managed this by aggregating the salaries of Swanigan, Gabriel, and Ariza into $15.7 million and swapped that for Bazemore and his $19.3 million contract. Since the Kings are under the tax threshold and they were taking back less than $20 million they could receive as much as $5 million more than they sent out. Tolliver was absorbed into a minimum salary exception.

From the Blazers perspective, the trade probably broke down into three parts:

  1. Bazemore for Ariza — legal because Ariza makes less than Bazemore
  2. Gabriel — fits into the minimum salary exception
  3. Swanigan — $2M salary goes into the Rodney Hood Disabled Player Exception. (Note: This is an update, the original article had Swanigan on a minimum salary.)
  4. Tolliver as a throw-in — minimum salary exception for the Kings

Fun detail: The Blazers now have Swanigan and a Swanigan TPE, created last season with they traded him to the Kings.

More TPEs?!

Bobby Marks noted that this created two trade exceptions for the Blazers. One for the difference between Bazemore’s and Ariza’s contracts, and one for Tolliver’s contracts.

Should I feel happy about this trade?

Jody Allen should absolutely feel happy about this trade! The message is less clear for the fans.

The Blazers did not significantly improve and Ariza’s $1.8 million guarantee for next season further undermines any hypothetical cap space the Blazers may have.

If Whiteside is flipped for a quality player on a long-term deal before the trade deadline, then having Ariza on the books may be helpful as a trade asset next season. If, however, no trade for Whiteside is forthcoming this trade costs the Blazers two second round draft picks and possible cap room with no significant on-court return.

The NBA Trade Deadline on Feb. 6 still looms large.

I threw together an example of what the behind-the-scenes machinations MIGHT have looked like to make this trade happen. Also hit a couple FAQs. Here’s the thread on Twitter if you’re interested (Sorry but I’m not typing it out again! haha):