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Trail Blazers Middling in NBA Trade Hierarchy

Financial questions and direction make Portland an unsure shopper.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2023 NBA Trade Deadline lies just three weeks away and the Portland Trail Blazers don’t look to be heading to the promised land with their roster as currently constructed. That confluence would normally make Portland a hot topic among their peers. Not, so, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN. In an article for ESPN Insider [subscription required], Marks ran down the trade likelihood for all 30 NBA franchises. He ranked Portland dead in the middle, a 5 out of a possible 10 on the trade likelihood scale.

Marks points out Jerami Grant’s prospective contract extension and the luxury tax line as major factors in Portland’s willingness to make moves. He quotes Grant’s statements to Portland media about liking the town and the franchise, then continues:

A new contract, either with an extension or via free agency this summer, likely pushes Portland into the luxury tax in 2023-24.

Speaking of the tax, does the front office have the green light to go into the tax if there is a trade that improves a bench that ranks last in points per game?

Portland is $67,482 below the threshold and would forfeit $17 million in tax distribution by going over.

As we’ve talked about here repeatedly, exceeding the tax this year would be a rough sell. The team is hovering around the .500 mark halfway through the season. Betting on a dramatic improvement from an expensive mid-year acquisition would require either overwhelming proof or a suspension of disbelief on the part of ownership. It would not be impossible but...unusually generous?

As Marks indicates, the team is going across the tax threshold next season. Reaping the windfall for not exceeding it this year would help offset that expense. It would also prevent the clock starting on the Repeater Tax designation, a harsh penalty for teams that exceed the tax limit in 3 out of any 4 years. Portland will not only be up to their ears in taxes in 2023-24, 2024-25 and ensuing years won’t look much better as long as Damian Lillard mammoth contract is on the books. It runs for the next four seasons. Starting the repeater count this season could have dire consequences down the road.

For all these reasons, Portland’s trade possibilities will probably be limited to equal or lesser contract exchanges.

Because of his player option at the end of the year, forward Josh Hart is also a hot trade prospect. Marks suggests Hart for Indiana Pacers point guard TJ McConnell as a trade he’d like to see. McConnell averages 6.6 points and 4.6 assists in 17.9 minutes per game for the Pacers this season. His contract runs through 2024-25 at an average of about $8.7 million per year. Marks suggests former Oregon product Chris Duarte as the second in the deal. The 24-year-old small forward is averaging 6.9 points on 33.1% shooting from the field in 17.5 minutes per game this season.