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Blazer’s Edge Radio: Important Decisions Loom

The Trail Blazers enter a crucial offseason with limited financial flexibility. Can they improve the team?

NBA: Miami Heat at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With the Portland Trail Blazers season officially completed, the topic of discussion on this week’s edition of Blazer’s Edge Radio turned to the offseason. Damian Lillard isn’t getting any younger, and the time is now for Neil Olshey and the front office brass to build as good a team around him as possible in a loaded Western Conference that will likely be even deeper next season. Unfortunately, because of an already bloated team payroll, Portland will have few opportunities to do this — making every decision absolutely crucial.

The Situation

The Blazers currently have nine players under contract for next season (including Rodney Hood and Mario Hezonja, whom both have player options they will almost certainly accept). If they decide to hang on to Trevor Ariza at 12.8 million (non-guaranteed), that makes ten. Declining Ariza makes little sense, as he would still be due 1.8 million if cut (joining Andrew Nicholson and Anderson Varejao in dead cap purgatory) and would most likely leave Portland without a viable starting option at small forward for next season — with the health of Hood still very much in the air.

That pushes them right up to this season’s salary cap, which isn’t expected to rise for the 2020-21 season, due to lost revenue from the COVID-19 shutdown. Assuming Ariza is retained, that leaves the Blazers with the Taxpayers’ Mid-Level Exception (MLE), the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE), two draft picks, and minimum contracts to fill out the remaining five roster spots, plus a pair of two-way deals. They can of course also alter the roster via trade.

The Decisions

Hassan Whiteside’s contract is up, but the Blazers have an added advantage in the fact that they hold his Bird rights—meaning they can go over the cap to re-sign him without using an exception. This would seem to be a no-brainer, but the biggest factor on his return to Rip City will likely be his market value—as the team will certainly be cautious in regards to the luxury tax, of which they paid this season and must be mindful of achieving repeater status in the coming seasons.

Carmelo Anthony can be re-signed using either the BAE or MLE (which can be split between players), and has recently expressed an interest in returning. Given the injury concerns to Hood and Zach Collins, Melo could prove to be a cost-effective option to provide wing depth, and is obviously a capable scorer. His willingness to potentially come off the bench will likely be a factor, depending on how the rest of the roster looks when the dust settles.

While Portland holds Caleb Swanigan’s Bird rights, it’s hard to imagine the team investing further in the big man, particularly with the higher-ceiling Jaylen Hoard and Wenyen Gabriel also impending free agents. Simply put, a team with championship aspirations can only afford so many roster spots to unproven players.

The Draft

A potential lifeline could be available in the team’s first round pick in next month’s NBA Draft—slotted at 16th overall. Villanova’s Saddiq Bey is viewed as an NBA-ready 3-and-D wing who could fill an immediate hole on the Blazers bench. Should he be available when Portland is on the clock, Bey would make an intriguing prospect who could conceivably help the team right away. Other potentials in Portland’s range include Florida State’s Patrick Williams and Washington’s Jaden McDaniels, or a cheaper option to back-up Jusuf Nurkic.

What would you like to see the team do in the coming weeks? Chime-in below and be sure to tune-in to Blazer’s Edge Radio every Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT on XRAY FM throughout the NBA Playoffs.

Catch an archived version of this week’s show here.