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Will the Trail Blazers be able to sign free agents next summer?

Portland is looking at a luxury tax bill next year but Olshey will still have the option to run back a virtually identical lineup in 2021-22 if this season goes well.

2020 NBA Draft Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s never too early to talk about next season, right? With the 2020 offseason more or less completed, the Trail Blazers salary situation for 2021 is slightly more in focus than it was a few weeks ago. Here are some details about what we learned:

How much have the Blazers already spent for 2021-22?

The good news: Portland’s core four players — Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Robert Covington — are all already under contract for the 2021-22 season.

The less good news: Their contracts for the season total to about $96.5 million.

In addition, the Blazers also have rookie scale team options for Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little and CJ Elleby is signed to a minimum contract. Toss in the $2.8M due to Allen Crabbe’s ghost, and the baseline starting point for 2021 is seven players under contract for a cumulative $107 million.

Will the Blazers have cap space or be in the luxury tax next year?

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that next year’s salary cap and luxury tax are projected to be $112.4 million and $136.6 million, respectively. The hard cap is expected to settle in around $143.1 million.

Given that the Blazers are only $5.4 million below the cap with seven players under contract, they assuredly will not be operating below the cap next summer.

They will, however, be about $29.6 million below the luxury tax line and $36 million below the tax apron after accounting for the first seven players.

How can the Blazers re-sign their current players?

The next step is to figure out what to do about the following players:

  • Gary Trent Jr. (Restricted Free Agent)
  • Zach Collins (Restricted Free Agent)
  • Derrick Jones Jr. (Player Option $9.7 million, non-Bird exception)
  • Rodney Hood (Non-guaranteed $10.8 million)
  • Enes Kanter (Early Bird)

The Blazers will have the option to retain Trent, Collins, and Hood next season. Even if Trent or Collins decide to accept a qualifying offer to become free agents in 2022, they will be bound to the Blazers for at least one more season.

Kanter and Jones will be unrestricted free agents and can choose to walk but the Blazers can offer them a bit more than $10.5 million and about $11.1 million respectively.

The good news is that Olshey will have the option to run back a virtually identical lineup in 2021-22 if this season goes well. Of the incumbent players not yet signed for next season, only Jones could feasibly be expected to receive an offer the Blazers can’t match, and even that would only happen if he significantly exceeds expectations this season.

Will the Blazers have the Mid-Level Exception in 2021?

I won’t try to project the exact dollar values it will take to re-sign this year’s roster, but the big picture message is that it’s not going to be cheap. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Blazers re-sign more than one or two of those guys and manage to stay below the $143.1 million tax apron. Consequently, it’s safe to assume they’ll have only the taxpayer mid-level exception and minimum salary contracts to lure new players.

If Olshey did want to unlock the full mid-level exception he would need to sign six players, including the bulleted list above, for about $26 million. In other words to unlock the MLE it would probably require picking just one or two players from the Trent, Collins, Jones, Hood, and Kanter quintet and letting the rest walk.