I can't sleep right now so I'm putting my Cronin cap on! I've been thinking about the best outcome the Blazers can hope to achieve this off-seaason. Personally, I think the best outcome would be:
1. Retain Lillard and Grant as starters (and Nurkic as well, or instead replace him with another starting-caliber Center)
2. Acquire two young, veteran, potentially future all-star wings
2. Retain Sharpe as a bench player
4. Retain the 3rd pick
Obviously, my interpretation of "best off-season outcome" isn't universally agreed upon. For some, the best outcome is to center a trade on the 3rd pick & Simon's contract to land an All-NBA player (e.g., Siakam, Embiid, Brown).Which is fair! For me, though, there are two big downsides to this approach:
1. The 3rd pick has a very good chance of landing you a generational talent,
2. These All-NBA players are expensive! The cap next year will be ~$133 million. If we acquire a contract like Siakam's $37 million contract (trading away Simons's contract in the process), it's unlikely we'd have the cap space to sign another talented wing to round out our starting 5.
To me, that second downside is interesting. Because, yes, we can use Simon's contract as matching salary to get a $40 million player. Or, we can use Simon's salary to acquire a very talented wing at matching (or lower) salary. If we take this second approach, we could then have a path forward for creating enough cap space (~$30 million) to sign another talented wing in Free Agency.
How would that second approach play out? Here's a hypothetical:
1. Blazers give Chicago this year's 23rd pick to clear their pick obligation.
2. Blazers acquire OG Anunoby for Simons, an unprotected 2024 pick, and a pick swap in 2025 (it's tough to gauge OG's trade value on the last year of his contract, but let's assume this deal gets the job done).
3. Blazers re-sign Grant (let's say for 4 years/$120 million, with $28 million in the first year).
4. Blazers decline qualifying offers on Thybulle and Reddish. They also trade Little and most rookie contracts to other teams, using our pool of 2nd round picks to grease the palms of buyers.
5. Blazers trade away Nurkic for nothing.
That last item needs clarifying. I think Nurkic is a great player on a reasonable contract. Because of this, I think the Blazers can potentially find a team that is under the cap that would be willing to assume Nurkic's contract (both for the player and the future value of the contract). Doing so would erase ~$17 million from the Blazers' books, and would also generate a $17 million trade exception.
So let's say all of the above happens (which, granted, is a big "if", especially regarding the OG and Nurk deals).
Afterwards, with our core players, our stretched contracts, and Watford's contract (because I like Watford!), our cap sheet would look like:
We would then have ~$29 million in cap space (or ~$31 million if we trade Watford). We would also have a $17 million trade exception.
What could we then do with this cap space? Personally, I'd grossly overpay for Cameron Johnson. Offer him $126 million / 4 years, with $29 million in Year 1. In terms of age, experience, room for improvement, defensive versatility, and shooting ability, Johnson is the best team fit this Free Agency class has to offer south of Kris Middleton. He's a Restricted Free Agent, but at $32 million a year, I think the Nets would blink on matching.
After the Johnson signing, and after the Blazers add vet min and rookie contracts, they will still have the Full MLE and the $17 million trade exception to work with.
With the full MLE, we'd be targeting a starting Center. My preference would be to offer Naz Reid the Full MLE for 4 years/$49 million. Similar to Johnson, in terms of age, experience, shooting ability, defense, and room for improvement, I think Reid would be a perfect fit. He's apparently seeking a $10 million/year contract, and hopefully the MLE would be more than enough to get his attention.
So.... ya, that's my ideal off-season. With these moves, the 4 starters complementing Dame are all experienced, young, 2-way players that can shoot from range. The starting 5 would have both the talent and team fit to compete with any team in the league.
The Blazers would also retain their two most important long-term assets - Sharpe's contract and the 3rd pick. And, assuming that additional draft resources aren't required to acquire OG or trade away Nurk, the Blazers would still have the flexibility to combine the $17 million trade exception with future 1st rounders to acquire additional talent this year.
Oh, and we also re-sign Eubanks to the vet min! Let's go!!!