Gary Trent Jr. was one of the few bright spots for the Trail Blazers this season. The second-year guard emerged, somewhat unexpectedly, as a rotation mainstay during the latter half of the season, averaging 13.7 points per game on 60.4 percent true shooting after the all-star break.
Yesterday’s news that Trent had signed with the Klutch Sports Group had Blazermaniacs asking “what’s next?” for Trent when his contract expires at the end of next season. Ideally President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey will find a way to retain the 3-point deadeye, but the path that negotiation follows may turn out to be more circuitous than the team would prefer.
How much can the Blazers offer Trent this offseason?
Since Trent signed a three-year contract two years ago, the Blazers can offer an extension that adds as much as four years to his current contract. The first year of the new deal maxes out at either 120 percent of Trent’s salary for next season or 120 percent of the average league salary. Trent is set to make about $1.66 million next season so he will certainly opt for the latter option.
Assuming the maximum annual eight percent raises, that would translate to a four-year, $51 million extension, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks:
Trent Jr. Is extension eligible in the offseason with Portland allowed to add an extra four years (a projected $51M) to his contract. He is under contract for $1.66M in 2020/21 and will become a restricted FA in 2021. https://t.co/Nka0SZ63UL— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) October 5, 2020
What happens if Trent doesn’t sign an extension?
If Trent does not sign an extension this offseason, he will become a restricted free agent (RFA) in 2021. As an RFA, the Blazers will have a right of first refusal to match any offers Trent receives from another team. Portland has his full Bird Rights so they can generally exceed the salary cap by any amount to retain him.
Another complication is that it’s unclear what the 2021-22 salary cap will look like. The league is reportedly trying to keep the cap stable next season, and it’s possible they extend the status quo an additional season after that. A depressed cap would put a squeeze on contracts for mid-salary players and may push Trent and others toward accepting the full mid-level exception of about $10 million.
Will Trent and the Blazers agree to an extension?
Here’s the tricky part for Olshey: Trent’s play this season demonstrated that he is likely a solid NBA role player. This is not a Wade Baldwin situation where hyperactivity masked an unsustainable style of play. Trent looked comfortable and under control on defense for the most part, and has knocked down over 40 percent of his 300+ career 3-point attempts. That’s pretty solid for a second round pick!
With that said, there would be a significant amount of risk for the team if they lock Gary into an eight-figure salary. Trent does not have the multi-season track record needed to guarantee that his 3-point shooting won’t fade over time — especially as teams key in on him defensively and coach Terry Stotts features Trent more heavily in the offense (flare screens, please!).
Trent’s shooting will likely work out — I have no stats or analytics to back this up but he just appeared too damn confident and locked in for his accuracy to fall off a cliff. Defensive limitations, however, are also a concern when considering a $51-million extension.
As mentioned above, he has looked generally solid defensively but two flaws do raise eyebrows. First, Trent does not have the size to match-up with the elite forwards of the league like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard:
This is a problem if Trent is expected to be the primary wing playing alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. And with an 8-figure salary he almost has to be in that role.
Additionally, Trent still has recurring lapses on basic defensive fundamentals at times:
Unlike size disparities the lapses in concentration can, of course, be corrected. But given the defensive limitations of Lillard and McCollum, the idea of paying $11 million to a player who still needs to make these improvements should be very carefully considered. Nobody wants Allen Crabbe 2.0.
The takeaway is that while Trent is likely to develop into a solid role player, he still needs a more extensive track record and several enhancements to his game to prove that he merits even the full MLE. Otherwise the Blazers would be better off signing solid but marginal role players using cap exceptions in future years (e.g. Seth Curry).
Why Klutch Sports?
This is where Klutch Sports comes into play. After bidding against himself to overpay multiple players (i.e. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless), Olshey seems to have come to his senses in the last couple years. Most notably, Jusuf Nurkic signed a team-friendly deal in 2018.
Not so coincidentally, Nurkic has since signed with Klutch. Presumably based on their reputation for being extremely aggressive and player friendly in negotiations. The tl;dr here is that Rich Paul and co. aren’t going to accept a low-ball offer on Trent’s behalf. This, combined with Trent’s pending RFA status during a slight salary cap depression, suggests that it will be difficult for the two sides to find a middle ground during the offseason.