Last week we reviewed the tools that general manager Neil Olshey will have at his disposal to add new players to the Trail Blazers’ roster via free agency this offseason (details here). This week, let’s take a look at the contract decisions that need to be made by/about players currently on the roster.
Rodney Hood and Mario Hezonja
Rodney Hood and Mario Hezonja both have player options for next season. If they exercise those options they will make about $6 million and $2 million, respectively. If either player declines the option he will become an unrestricted free agent. Given that Hood is recovering from a major injury, and Hezonja might struggle to find a guaranteed contract elsewhere, it is very likely that both players will opt in to their contracts. The deadline for these decisions is technically Oct. 15, but that may change as the NBA continues pushing back the start date for next season.
Zach Collins is eligible for an extension on his rookie scale contract, but that extension must be signed before next season starts or he will enter free agency in 2021. The extension can add up to four years on to the end of Collins’ current contract (i.e. through the end of the 2024-25 season). While the Blazers likely hope to retain Collins, it is still unclear how much on-court impact Zach will have in the long term after an injury-plagued third season. Unless Collins wishes to immediately lock in guaranteed salary, possibly below offers he will fetch in free agency next offseason, it seems unlikely that the parties will agree to an extension.
Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little
Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little are entering their third and second seasons, respectively. As first round draft picks, they are both on rookie scale contracts, giving the Blazers team options for the third and fourth seasons for both players. The decision on those options must be made a full year prior to the start of that season, so Olshey will decide this offseason if he wants to pick up the team options for Simons and Little for the 2021-22 campaign. Normally that deadline is Oct. 31, but will likely change given the irregular offseason.
If the Blazers decline the option for either player, that player will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. While not unprecedented to pass on team options for players on rookie scale contracts (hi Wade Baldwin), it would be very unusual. Expect the Blazers to announce that they are exercising the options for both players before the next season starts.
Trevor Ariza’s 2020-21 salary is partially guaranteed — if the Blazers cut Ariza he will receive $1.8 million but if the team keeps him he will earn $12.8 million. Given that the Blazers will likely not have cap space, regardless of whether or not they cut Ariza, the most likely scenario is that he will stay with the team. The hitch is that $12.8 million is a clear overpay for a player in the twilight of his career and that bill may become more onerous if the salary cap declines. In a worst case scenario, Ariza’s contract could bump the Blazers up against the hard cap before they are able to use all their free agency exceptions. The team could cut Ariza and re-sign him to a smaller deal, but that would require additional negotiation. As of now, it seems likely that the Blazers will choose not to cut Ariza despite the large contract.