The Trail Blazers have captured the attention of free agents, pundits and fans alike with their comprehensive improvements this offseason. The Blazers addressed their defensive deficiencies with the additions of Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey, following a year that was often sidetracked by injuries, bolstered the roster’s depth by re-acquiring Enes Kanter and reaching a one-year deal with Harry Giles.
But there is one move the Blazers need to make to put a bow on an already impressive transaction window. It is time for Gary Trent Jr. to get a new contract.
The Blazers are squeezed right up against the tax line heading into the 2020-21 season. That window is so tight that the Blazers, as outlined by Olshey last week, will not fill the final roster spot at this time. In regards to a potential Trent extension, the Blazers’ current payroll would emerge unscathed if a deal is agreed upon prior to the Dec. 21 deadline.
Current cap structure aside, the Blazers can offer Trent an attractive four-year, $51 million extension. Back in October, Blazer’s Edge cap guru Eric Griffith detailed the extension options that Portland can offer the blossoming sharpshooter.
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
Moving forward, the Blazers would lose what little wiggle room they possess in the 2021 offseason. If Trent agreed to a $51 million deal, he would form a quartet of guard-like players on Portland’s roster set to earn eight-digit annual salaries in the 2021-22 season (assuming Rodney Hood’s non-guaranteed money is picked up).
Given the meager restricted free agent market that unfolded in the past two weeks, it is hard to imagine that offer sheets will emerge as breeding ground for deals in 2021. Only Bogdan Bogdanovic agreed to a deal with an outside team as a restricted free agent. Next year’s class could present a drastically different landscape.
In his forward-looking assessment of the 2021 offseason, ESPN’s Bobby Marks explained that an expanded field of teams with cap space should combine with an attractive restricted free agent class to produce fireworks.
Without more extensions agreements between now and the Dec. 21 deadline, the 2021 market could be flooded with restricted free agents, including John Collins, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Devonte’ Graham and Gary Trent Jr. Rival front offices likely will be more aggressive in forcing incumbent teams to match offer sheets on those players.
A cash-infused competitive market could force the Blazers to decide on matching a contract that would easily fall in line with Bogdanovic’s $72 million deal and above De’Anthony Melton’s new $35 million contract with the Grizzlies. The Blazers — and Trent — could cut out that variance with an extension in the run up to the 2020-21 season.
On the surface, throwing an early extension at a player that has a relatively small track record of performing at a high level seems overly aggressive. But Trent’s shooting chops, defensive acumen, and youth make him a perfect complement to the Blazers’ current backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Anfernee Simons’ journey to becoming a facilitator is still underway. A lack of a true backup point guard, coupled with Simons’ development, sets the stage for a continued lineup deployment that features staggered minutes from Lillard and McCollum. In that scenario, a lucrative extension for Trent, even at this stage of his career, turns from palatable to desirable. In a bonafide sixth-man role, alongside a premier NBA guard at all times, Trent has the foundation to outperform his salary.
At 21 years old, Trent is far from reaching his athletic apex. An early extension agreement puts the Blazers in position to pay for future production, a trend that has emerged in Olshey’s recent signings (Jones and Giles). More importantly, locking in Trent sharpens the focus on Portland’s long-term picture. Zach Collins’ next contract looms large. That tension would be reduced if one of the Blazers’ future pieces was already pencilled in on the ledger.
To put it simply, a long-term deal for Trent would put a cherry on top of a strong offseason. In a stronger free agent market with reduced flexibility the Blazers could easily find themselves in a less advantageous position in 2021. A new extension agreement between both parties mitigates the headache of a potentially-rougher offseason and it would allow Trent to emerge as an early top-earner from the 2018 class. However modest, a win-win is a win-win.