If the roster remains unchanged, the Portland Trail Blazers will take approximately 92 billion guards into the 2022-23 season with a relative paucity of forwards and centers. You would think they’d want to sew up the bigger players they do have, securing their frontcourt future. That is not necessarily the case, though, at least by current indications.
Three forwards—Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Nassir Little—have uncertain contracts, with potential negotiations on the horizon. That’s concerning one reader, becoming the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
I know this is a too soon question, but do you expect Hart, Little, and Grant all to be back in the 2023-24 season? What level of success would be needed for that to happen?
Let’s clarify where they are.
Josh Hart has a player option on his contract next summer. He’s making $13 million this year. That sum will repeat if Hart does not opt out. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent if he does.
Jerami Grant is making $21 million this year and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season is over.
Nassir Little is still on his rookie contract. He will have the option to enter restricted free agency in the Summer of 2023. The Blazers will have the right to match contract offers for him, or they can negotiate an extension with him that would preempt the process, much as they did with Anfernee Simons this year.
The Blazers already have approximately $131 million in cap obligations committed for 2023-24, and that’s without counting cap holds on Grant and Little. They will not be able to generate any usable cap space (outside of the usual exceptions) unless they release all three forwards outright. Retaining even one of them would put the Blazers over the cap.
Just reading cap and talent, it makes no sense for the Blazers to lose any of these players. In an ideal world, Portland would probably keep all three. That’s the natural starting stance.
Other factors do come into play, though, and they’re going to mess with the plan.
Player willingness matters here. All three forwards have some control over their own destiny, two of them completely. Hart can become a free agent, Grant will, and Little has the option of signing a one-year qualifying offer, then becoming a free agent in 2024.
Little is unlikely to do that. It’s more likely he’ll extend with the Blazers or sign an offer elsewhere that they’ll match. Portland has more control over Little’s situation than Grant’s or Hart’s. He’ll also be the cheapest of the three to retain. That makes him the most likely candidate to return.
Jerami Grant’s case is pretty simple. If the Blazers pay him, he’ll likely stay. If not, of course, he can’t. Portland probably didn’t trade a first-round pick for him just to rent him for a year. Grant probably didn’t nod to Portland with no intention of remaining there. The most obvious scenario is that the Blazers intend to make him an offer that he’ll be amenable to accepting.
Two factors could muddy the waters. First, Grant wants to remain a key hub on both ends of the floor. Portland will encourage him to play all the defense he can, of course, but they’ll also have an interest in keeping him engaged offensively if they want to retain him. If Grant doesn’t get the chance to flourish, the relationship could sour.
If he does flourish, the other factor rears its head. Grant’s contract could get really expensive, really fast. He’s already making $21 million as-is. If he scores near 20 and defends well, the asking price is going to go sky high. The Blazers might be willing to pay, but that’s going to affect what they can do with other players. Grant’s new contract would put the cap line way in the rear-view mirror, as Portland would now be eyeing the luxury tax threshold with trepidation.
We haven’t even gotten to Hart yet. He scored 20 per game when given free rein with the Blazers last season. He’s an all-around player and will be in demand. I don’t see any way he settles for $13 million again, or remains on the last year of his contract.
Hart’s situation is further complicated by his place in the rotation. He’s a natural shooting guard. The Blazers are flush there. Portland will find a way to play Hart—they almost have to—but he’s going to be a secondary consideration. Even playing small forward or initiating the offense upon occasion, he might not get as many minutes—and almost certainly won’t get as many touches—as his talent merits.
If Hart reaches the end of the season on Portland’s roster, it’s likely that he and the team will be ready to part ways, the Blazers because of luxury tax concerns, Hart because of greener pastures elsewhere.
For these reasons, the most likely scenario is that Little gets matched or extended, Grant gets re-signed, and Hart gets traded before the deadline, lest he simply leave at the end of the season.
Several factors could alter the scenario. They include:
- Portland succeeding wildly this year with all three players filling major roles. This would make them more inclined to keep Hart through the playoffs. It might also make them more willing to exceed the tax threshold next year.
- Portland failing spectacularly to the point that it was evident this roster wasn’t going to work. That would make them less inclined to commit to Grant long-term.
- Little getting injured or not producing, calling his future utility into questions.
- Grant not fitting or flourishing.
- Trades with other players altering the team landscape. If, for some unlikely reason, the Blazers traded away Simons, for instance, Hart would become more valuable to Portland.
Any of these is possible, but they’re all towards the edges of the bell curve. Best guess is still that Grant and Little stay, Hart is moved.
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