Robert Covington. Enes Kanter. Derrick Jones Jr. Harry Giles. Rodney Hood. Even freaking Carmelo Anthony!
Free agency was almost an embarrassment of riches for the Trail Blazers, to hear many NBA experts tell it. Now that the dust has settled, let’s take a look at the questions lingering around Portland’s roster.
Do the Blazers have any flexibility left?
After signing C.J. Elleby, the Blazers are about $627,852 below the luxury tax line and $6,928,852 below the tax apron with one remaining open roster spot.
Signing CJ Elleby to a minimum contract on the main roster is likely a tell the Trail Blazers plan to dodge the luxury tax. They're $627k under after adding Elleby. pic.twitter.com/kCayToQ2Ux— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) November 23, 2020
Since the Blazers used the mid-level exception they are “hard capped” at the tax apron of $138,928,000 — i.e. they cannot exceed that line for any reason whatsoever for the rest of the season.
Should Olshey choose to, the Blazers can still use remaining exceptions or trades to take on salary up to the tax apron. However, Olshey implied yesterday that the Blazers are not willing to pay the luxury tax so it is unlikely they will add anyone before the trade deadline.
What about the BAE and Whiteside’s Bird Rights?
The Blazers did not use their bi-annual exception (BAE) of about $3.6 million nor Hassan Whiteside’s Bird Rights.
Whiteside remains a free agent but will, presumably, find a new home soon so his Bird Rights will likely go unused.
Using the BAE would take the Blazers into the luxury tax so it will go unused as well. Technically, it could be used later in the season to lure a buy-out free agent, but since the cap hit of the BAE is NOT pro-rated it would carry a hefty tax bill.
The BAE is probably a “use it or lose it” for Portland this season — they’ll be over the tax apron next season after re-signing Gary Trent Jr. and Zach Collins. But hypothetically it would be available in the event that Portland does find a way to slide under the tax apron next season.
Can the Blazers add more free agents?
Okay, so the BAE is off the table. That doesn’t mean that signing another free agent is off the table.
If the Blazers are dead-set on staying below the luxury tax line they could sign someone part way through the season to a pro-rated minimum salary contract — they have about $627k left under the tax. An example of how the math would work:
Instead of the usual 177 days, the NBA’s 2020/21 season will be 146 days, tweets Pincus. That means, for instance, that a player who signs a 10-day contract will receive 10/146ths of the minimum salary instead of 10/177ths.
Given that math, the Blazers could sign a veteran to a minimum contract for as many as 56 days and still slide under the tax line (i.e. his total salary would not exceed $627,852). Savvy fans will be thinking “trade deadline buyout” about now.
Can the Blazers make a consolidation trade?
Here’s the biggest question that I’d recommend everyone start thinking about. The Blazers, for the first time in recent memory, seemingly have multiple players who might carry trade value.
Several of those players (e.g. Rodney Hood, Jones Jr., Enes Kanter, Zach Collins) have no salary guaranteed beyond this season. Attach a draft pick or two and suddenly something like a LaMarcus Aldridge reunion, or Kevin Love homecoming, is a very serious consideration.
I’m personally wary of expecting consolidation trades from the Blazers at this point, but if there was ever a time for one it’ll be at the trade deadline this year.
Does keeping a roster spot open really add flexibility?
An open roster spot does nothing to increase flexibility unless a team is right up against the hard cap. General Managers can sign a player to non-guaranteed minimum and then cut him with no penalty, as needed. It’s functionally equivalent to an open spot for the first half of the season.
The only reason not to fill the final roster spot is to save money, or because a GM is not confident he can find an NBA caliber player among the available free agents (that would be weird).
What about two-way contracts?
The Blazers have two two-way roster spots open. The league has modified its rules to allow two-way players to spend the entire season on their team’s primary roster and appear in as many as 50 games.
Given the rule changes, and possible upheaval that COVID-19 could cause to a team’s roster, signing two young players to two-way deals is an absolute no-brainer. If the Blazers, or any other franchise, don’t use these roster spots some serious questions should be asked about what in the hell they are thinking.
Bobby Marks noted an interested trend earlier today on Twitter:
Starting to see a trend of Two-Way contracts starting to shift to second-round picks.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) November 24, 2020
Out of the 30 players taken in rd. 2, only CJ Elleby (pick 46 to POR) has signed a standard contract (2 years fully guaranteed).
Note that the Blazers probably signed Elleby to a regular contract instead of a two-way because only a rookie contract would allow them to simultaneously hit the 14-player requirement while maintaining some leftover salary under the luxury tax to sign a buyout free agent at the trade deadline. This also explains why Wenyen Gabriel was not an option for Olshey — his salary as a one-year veteran would have absorbed most of the remaining under-the-tax money.
Is now the time to point out that Andrew Nicholson is on the books for about $2.7 million this season? And if his contract hadn’t been stretched the Blazers could fit about 11/12 of a BAE under the tax line?
I thought Carmelo Anthony was making $2.5 million this year?
As a 10+ year vet Melo will actually get paid $2.56M but the Blazers will be on the hook for “only” $1.6M (i.e. min salary of a 2-year vet). The league will pay the rest. This rule is in place so teams don’t avoid signing older players.
FYI: I analyze most of the Blazers roster moves as they happen on Twitter. Follow me there (@EricG_NBA) if you want the information in this article as news breaks.