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6 Players The Trail Blazers Could Chase With The Full MLE

In the unlikely case the Blazers keep spending in hand, who could they snag with the full midlevel exception?

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers will be preoccupied with the NBA Draft and the fate of franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard this summer, but in between those high-profile items, they’ll also need to focus on bolstering their infrastructure through free agency.

Last week, we highlighted free agents that might be available to the Blazers for the taxpayer midlevel exception, once the new season opens on June 30. Given the current state of the Blazers’ books, the $5 million taxpayer amount will likely be the best free agency tool General Manager Joe Cronin will have access to.

But there’s a possibility that the Blazers could land close to the threshold between the full midlevel exception of $12 million and the smaller taxpayer version. The full exception is available to teams with a payroll that does not exceed the tax apron, which is projected to be around $169 million — after said exception is used.

The Blazers already have nine players and almost $113 million on the books in 2023-24. The number will only rise with Jerami Grant in line for $30 million, the potential returns of two restricted free agents, and a couple of veteran minimum deals.

This edges the team awfully close to the $162 million tax line and the $169 million apron.

But for the sake of argument, if Cronin is able to keep spending down, who might be available for that $12 million exception? The amount can also be used on multiple players. Some of the candidates below might merit a significant part of the MLE, others the whole thing.


Donte DiVincenzo (Golden State Warriors), Guard

Would the Blazers give their midlevel to another former Warrior after the furor created by the Gary Payton II fiasco last season?

DiVincenzo has a $4.7 million player option, which he’s almost guaranteed to opt out of. The 26-year-old NBA champion offers all the offense of a modern day combo guard while being a decent defender, highlighted by his place in the 90th percentile for steals last season.

On offense, the 6’4 DiVincenzo held the 12th best assist rate and the second best assist to usage ratio last season. The two-time Villanova champion also hit 42 percent from the corner, verging on 40 percent overall from long range.

If the Blazers felt bold enough to go after former Warriors in consecutive years, DiVincenzo would be a nice addition as the franchise’s first or second name off the bench.

2022-23: 26.3 minutes, 9.4 points, 39.7% from three, 4.6 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals

2022-23 salary: $4.5 million

Max Strus (Miami Heat), Wing

Possibly the worst time to be talking up Strus’ credentials, given his poor performance through the early part of the NBA Finals. Sure, it hasn’t been great but he has been a key force for the South Florida franchise throughout the playoffs, able to shoot, pass and move without the ball.

I’m a big fan of Strus who despite not being a world-beating defender is fine on that end. An offensive weapon, the undrafted 6’5 wing is a three-point specialist, who put up 45 percent from the corner this past season.

We all remember Josh Hart’s game winner against the Heat in Miami last season, but we can’t forget the circus shot Strus hit a few seconds earlier to tie the game. My only real concern is whether he’s one of those guys who shines in Miami but nowhere else.

2022-23: 28.4 minutes, 11.5 points, 35.0% from three, 3.2 boards, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals

2022-23 salary: $1.8 million

Trey Lyles (Sacramento Kings), Big

Lyles is unlikely to leave the Kings after a growth year with the northern Californian franchise. The former #12 pick offers versatility and competency at the two big frontcourt positions. The 6’9 Canadian is a Jack-of-all-trades, something Portland has needed off the bench for some time, but he’s also carved out a speciality, shooting 44 percent from the corner last season.

The 27-year-old also offers a bit of aggression, which when harnessed correctly is a trait that could benefit this particularly nice and likable Blazers roster. He also has a knack for staying out of foul trouble while guarding some of the league’s larger, more dominant bigs. If the Kings can’t come to a deal, I wouldn’t be surprised if Portland, at the very least, sniffs around.

2022-23: 16.9 minutes, 7.6 points, 36.3% from three, 4.1 boards, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals

2022-23 salary: $2.6 million

Kelly Oubre Jr. (Charlotte Hornets), Wing

We already know the Blazers and Damian Lillard have interest in Oubre Jr. after the franchise reportedly made a play for the athletic wing two years ago. Despite averaging more than 20 points last season, the 6’6 Oubre Jr’s long-range shooting percentage saw a serious dip.

Which leads me to concerns over his efficiency. Last season Oubre Jr. held a 23.8 percent usage rate (83rd percentile) but carried a 49.8 percent effective field goal percentage (24th percentile). We might need to take the ball out of his hands a little.

He’s a passable defender with a decent steal rate (81st percentile among wings last season) last season, but it’s his consistency on that end that might be a concern.

I also have questions about his ability to stay in one spot. Given how valuable long, productive wings are in this league, why has Oubre Jr. played for three different franchises (Charlotte, Warriors and Phoenix Suns) over the past four seasons? Something to consider.

I still think he can be effective in a smaller role off the Blazers bench.

2022-23: 32.3 minutes, 20.3 points, 31.9% from three, 5.2 boards, 1.1 assists, 1.4 steals

2022-23 salary: $12.6 million

Naz Reid (Minnesota Timberwolves), Big

I’m throwing the 23-year-old Reid in here as it appears many Blazer’s Edge readers are enamoured with him. He’s alright and may even get the full midlevel exception this summer. I just think the Blazers can do better for a lot less money. Reid is an undersized (6’9) center who doesn’t seem to thrive in any particular area.

With Karl-Anthony Towns out for most of the season, Reid was the prime back up to Rudy Gobert. Among centers, Reid was in the 67th percentile for defensive rebounds, 35th percentile for offensive rebounds and 70th percentile for blocks.

He was in the 51st percentile for three point shooting, 42nd percentile from midrange and 83rd percentile at the rim.

2022-23: 18.4 minutes, 11.5 points, 34.6% from three, 4.9 boards, 1.1 assists, 0.8 blocks

2022-23 salary: $1.9 million

Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings), Forward

I was reluctant to include Barnes given he probably gets more than this to stay with the Kings. Given the impact the ascending Sacramento franchise had on the league this season and the hard yards he’s already done with the team — surely he wouldn’t leave now.

But, if the Blazers manage to bring back a couple of All Star-level talents before free agency starts, could Barnes’ eye wander further afield? The 6’8 forward has two-way ability with championship experience and a history of being able to get hot on offense.

Last season, the 31-year-old was in the 92nd percentile for points per possession (126.2) as well as drawing fouls on 19.4 percent of his shots, considered fourth best among forwards.

2022-23: 32.5 minutes, 15.0 points, 37.4% from three, 5.0 boards, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals

2022-23 salary: $18.3 million


This whole discussion will be moot if the Blazers are unable to put a contender around Damian Lillard later this month, prompting his potential departure from the franchise. The full midlevel is also made a little more futile given the likelihood the Blazers will struggle to keep their finances down.

But if General Manager Joe Cronin can shrewdly nip and tuck the payroll he may be able to upgrade from the $5 million taxpayer to the $12 million full midlevel exception. That extra $7 million could mean the difference between a Josh Richardson, Seth Curry-type and a Kelly Oubre Jr, Harrison Barnes-level talent, providing depth and talent off the bench.