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What the Trail Blazers Will Do in the 2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency

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Not sure what’s going to happen in this busy week? Here’s how it will probably go.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Portland Trail Blazers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is about to enter into the most hectic period any of us will have ever seen, with the 2020 NBA Draft, the lifting of the free agency and trade moratorium, plus the start of training camps all coming in a two-week span. We’ve discussed all these matters extensively in various posts and podcasts, but few people will have seen them all, let alone assimilated all the possibilities ahead for the Portland Trail Blazers during this busy time.

To relieve that anxiety and give you a glimpse of the weeks ahead, here’s what the Blazers are most likely to do.

They’re going to release Hassan Whiteside.

Note: The following section has changed since the original publish, though the conclusion is the same.

Their incumbent, now back-up, center made $27 million last year, which is going to create a huge cap hold this off-season. The exact amount has been listed at $32 million or $40 million, depending on the source. Either way, that will obliterating Portland’s already-scant ability to get under the cap unless the Blazers re-sign him to a lesser amount or formally renounce him. That would also mean renouncing their ability to re-sign him under Bird Rights.

One way to keep Whiteside would be signing him early to a cheap contract, setting his value in stone, then allowing them to use other exceptions to edge towards the “hard cap”, which sits right around $139 million. He’d need to sign for much less than his current contract to make that work.

The Blazers would presumably be “hard capped” because they’d use their mid-level exception to sign another player. (See just below.) If they didn’t do that, they could theoretically sign Whiteside to a huge deal using Bird Rights, but they’d lose the ability to use their MLE if they went over the hard cap line to do so.

As Blazer’s Edge Reader BlazerFanSince1970 points out in the comments, Portland could also sign everybody else, see how much room was left for Whiteside, and ink him to any deal that didn’t put them over the apron...potentially up to $12 million per year,

Whiteside is not going to agree to a small contract early in free agency. The Blazers would have trouble clearing space to make it necessary anyway. They’re not going to give up their MLE for him either. That leaves the “wait until later” option. I don’t believe they’ll want to spend every penny up to the hard cap early in the season and I don’t think they’d find enough utility in him to keep him even if they could re-sign him at the end. It might be useful to have his salary slot as trade ballast, but if he’s not inking a deal on the free agent market, demand for him might be limited on the trade market as well.

Long story short, his place on the team is marginal, his cost in future flexibility—both this year under the tax apron and in ensuing years under a longer contract—could be important. The paths to keeping him are twisty. Letting him go is cleaner, simpler, and ultimately cheaper.

They’re going to sign a forward with the mid-level exception.

They’ll get a guy they’ll no doubt call their prime target, given the circumstances. They’ll look for a two-way forward who can also shoot, a starter and veteran. It’ll be the typical Neil Olshey Rorschach test move, alternately describable as fairly smart and not enough. Either way, this will be their biggest move of the off-season.

I wish they had a bigger trade in the works, myself. I don’t see it happening at this point.

They’ll draft Jay Scrubb or select for someone else.

Even before the national hubbub about him and Portland started, another staffer and I remarked about how “Olshey-esque” Jay Scrubb is. He’s an underrated, Junior College scorer who’s not afraid to shoot from deep. He’s got wingspan and can handle the ball. He’s explosive and has the tools to become a good defender. He can even pass. He might as well be wearing a “Future Trail Blazer” t-shirt on Instagram.

If they don’t go with Scrubb, we might guess that they’re picking for someone else, perhaps using the pick in a multi-team deal that would bring them a veteran. If a lottery team wants to trade down but still get value, while another team covets a lottery pick and has an established player to offer, look for Portland to be in the middle of that discussion.

They’ll let Carmelo Anthony set his own terms.

There’s no reason for the Blazers to do anything with him at all until he decides to do something.

Given his status, they’ll probably show Anthony the respect of letting him work out terms with someone else and leave them, or alternately re-sign with them for a modest amount if other teams don’t work out. (He’s not likely to re-sign if they use the MLE for a forward, though.) The story would wrap up well for both parties. Carmelo got to resurrect his career. The Blazers established themselves as a place big-name players can do that while enjoying themselves and getting attention. Nobody loses here.

Either way, Anthony’s decision could take some time. The Blazers will be fine with that.

They’ll keep Trevor Ariza.

Unless they’re making a big move otherwise, there’s no basketball or financial reason for Portland to let Trevor Ariza go. He’s a veteran, defensive-minded small forward who can shoot. He’s on a modest, single-year deal. Releasing him wouldn’t create more signing power than they already have with their MLE. (They could theoretically get below the cap, but not by much more than the $9 million exception. Plus they’d be a player short then.) Keeping him would also allow them to use his contract as trade ballast during the upcoming season.

They’ll save leverage and space for later signings.

Unless a Seth Curry “perfect fit” player leaps out at them, the Blazers will probably bank on the chaos of the short season turning up variance in the trade field and waiver wire during the year. The league could get pretty active around February, and Olshey has shown himself willing to make mid-season moves.

Long-term continuity already gives Portland an advantage going into the season. They don’t need a perfectly-formed roster to prosper early. They won’t want to spend every penny up to the hard cap if tantalizing trades or signings remain down the road.

Those are my best calls. What do you agree or disagree with, or what did I miss? Share in the comment section as you buckle up for the week ahead.