The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a 10-4 start in the young, 2022-23 NBA season, the best team in the Western Conference. Even the most optimistic pundits couldn’t have predicted this blazing beginning to the year. But the streak also brings up bigger questions. Blazers fans just can’t live without some worry, and the angst of the day appears to surround starting forwards Jerami Grant and Josh Hart. Each has played a key role in the surge. Each is a potential unrestricted free agent after the season.
Given the circumstances, the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag has been overflowing with questions about keeping one, or both, or ALL of Portland’s forwards. Here’s a sample:
Is there a chance we can keep both of them next season without any trades for our current players? (Josh Hart and Jeremi Grant)
Blazerfan from Manila
Solid start to season to say the least. My question is, assuming guys stay at or near this level of play, what do you now expect to happen at the trade deadline / in off season? Is Grant a 30 million dollar player at this level? Is Hart too valuable to trade? Maybe the blazers are more willing to go over the salary cap with all the winning? So far I would say this is the best case scenario.
Thanks for the insight like always!
I want us to engineer a way to keep our starting forwards, Jerami Grant and Josh Hart. Is there any way to make that happen?
What a nice change to read about people scrambling to keep players rather than trade them. That’s all you need to know about how the season is going so far.
And sure! The Blazers can do whatever they please with their current players, give or take an extension or two. The question isn’t can they, but under which conditions—if any—it makes sense.
Let’s take a look at Portland’s salary cap ledger next summer, courtesy of spotrac.
The 2023-24 NBA Salary Cap is projected to top out around $134 million. The luxury tax threshold projects at $162 million.
In 2023, Portland is already committed to $129 million in salary, plus $4.5 million in “dead” money obligations, placing them at $133.5 million. They’re over the cap.
That number includes Josh Hart’s $13 million player option.
It does not include salaries for free agents Jerami Grant and Justise Winslow.
All three of those factors will likely come into play.
Who Gets What?
The chances of Hart remaining with his current contract are small. $13 million is low for a player of his caliber, even if he has been slumping lately and taking fewer shots. Besides, the scenario assumes the Blazers want to keep him, which means he’d be playing great. Add in the fact that he’s 27 and due for a contract in his prime, and odds are he’s going to want a raise.
Let’s be modestly optimistic and project Hart at $19 million per year.
Grant, of course, is playing out of his mind. He could possibly command $30+ million if he keeps this up, but let’s put him at $28 million, assuming he loves playing Portland.
Winslow makes $4 million now. Let’s go ahead and double it to $8 million, figuring the Blazers are in contention thanks to him, in part.
What It Really Costs
Even with conservative estimates, Portland just added $42 million to their obligation to keep these players. That puts them at $175.5 million, $13.5 million over the tax threshold.
This season, five NBA teams owe active cap obligations of $175 million or higher: the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics. It’s not impossible to push salaries that high. All five of those teams considered themselves serious contenders before the season started, though. It’s safe to say, at minimum, that the Blazers would have to prove themselves that caliber of team in order to carry that much salary.
The luxury tax penalty on $175.5 million in salaries would be exactly $25 million, bringing the total cost to field the roster to $200.5 million.
If Hart and Grant wanted just $3 million more, combined, pushing their salaries to $20 million and $30 million, respectively, that $3 million extra would cost Portland $11.6 million more real dollars. That gives you an idea how high the price escalates from there. The cost would soon become prohibitive, no matter how well the Blazers play.
Is It Workable?
So far, the scenario seems unlikely. Other than extending Franchise All-Time Damian Lillard, the Blazers haven’t been overly aggressive in their spending or chasing lately. They dumped obligation last season. Will they want to get tied up again so soon? I wouldn’t put it past them to re-up all their players at an enormous price, but they’d need a good reason.
There are ways around this, of course. If they’re willing to part with Winslow, Portland would only be $6 million or so over the tax threshold. That drops the roster cost from $200 million total (including tax) to just over $177 million, far more reasonable.
If the Blazers could convince Hart to stick with his contract AND they let Winslow go, they’d probably negotiate hard with Grant to sign for the $28 million or so (with extra years and accompanying raises) that would keep them under the tax threshold. That’s the magic scenario. Not only would they not have to pay tax penalties, they’d receive bonus tax overpay dollars from other teams over the tax limit, reducing the real cost of the roster significantly.
Keep in mind that tax penalties are not computed until the end of the season, which means the Blazers could yolo their re-signings, see if the team was in contention mid-year, then try to bail out of extra salaries at the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline if it didn’t work.
So yes, there are ways to make these re-signings work, especially if the grip on Justise Winslow remains loose.
What Will Happen?
Frankly, if Josh Hart remains with the team past this year’s trade deadline, I expect the Blazers to try and retain him. They’d lose him for nothing otherwise, a lost opportunity. Jerami Grant seems like an automatic re-signing right now. We’ll see what the future holds on that front.
In any case knowing it’s not impossible is a relief, I’m sure. It’s ok to love this team, perhaps still cautiously, but with commitment nonetheless. This might be the beginning of a long-term relationship...or at least there’s a non-zero chance. Given recent events, good enough.
Thanks for the questions! You can always send yours to email@example.com!