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Lightning round: How shortened season affects Trail Blazers’ offseason plans

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Will general manager Neil Olshey need to make serious adjustments this summer?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we reviewed possible salary cap fallout from the NBA’s ongoing suspended season. Suffice to say, it’s very likely that the 2020-21 salary cap will not reach the previously projected $115 million. We’ll dig into the specifics of how a reduced cap affects the Blazers once the exact dollar amount has been announced, but for now let’s do a lighting round looking at how a lower cap will affect the team, in general:

Hard cap just got a little bit closer

It’s very unlikely the Blazers will choose to operate under the cap when the offseason finally starts. The tl;dr explanation of the cap situation is that once Rodney Hood and Mario Hezonja presumably opt in and a first round draft pick is added, Portland will be very close to the cap line already. As such they will use the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) and Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) to supplement the roster.

Once one of those exceptions is used the Blazers will be hard-capped — they won’t be allowed to exceed a certain salary amount for any reason (full explanation here). This year the hard cap was set at $138,928,000. If the hard cap settles at a similar level next year the Blazers will be able to use the full MLE and BAE and use Bird Rights to offer Hassan Whiteside a maximum of something around $11 million (i.e. more than the MLE of $9.3ish million but down from the approximately $16.1 million in flexibility that they had before). That’s less wiggle room than they would likely prefer, but is manageable.

Repeater tax watch

If the hard cap is falling it also means the luxury tax line is falling. If general manager Neil Olshey did want to try to dodge the tax next year that just got more complicated. Next season will be the third consecutive tax-paying year for the Blazers, if nothing changes, which means it’s time to start seriously asking if Vulcan Inc. is willing to pay a repeater tax penalty.

Retaining Hassan Whiteside might be more likely

If the salary cap decreases fewer teams will have money available to sign Hassan Whiteside into space this summer. That might artificially cap his value at the MLE — possibly less depending on how teams value his particular skills. The Blazers will have an inside track to retaining Whiteside via Bird Rights, should they choose to take it.

Zach Collins negotiation still difficult

Zach Collins will be eligible during this offseason to sign an extension on his contract that currently expires on June 30, 2021. That negotiation will be largely unaffected by next year’s cap, unless the league anticipates a multi-year revenue depression.

MLE and BAE will decrease for everyone

Per the most recent CBA, the MLE and BAE are tied to the cap so they will both be lower than expected next year. Since that is true for every team equally the Blazers won’t gain an advantage or disadvantage. The caveat is that a couple teams could choose to use their taxpayer MLE instead of the MLE if they are near the hard cap, slightly reducing competition on the MLE market.

Conclusion

The Blazers will be most directly affected by declining NBA revenue with regard to the 2020-21 luxury tax line and hard cap line. A falling luxury tax threshold makes eventual repeater tax penalties more likely, while a decline in the hard cap very slightly limits their flexibility, at worst. The team will likely still be able to execute any personnel moves as planned, including retaining Whiteside or negotiating an extension with Collins, unless management balks at a higher tax penalty.