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9 Potential Targets for the Trail Blazers Mid-Level Exception

Everyone’s waiting for a trade, but what about free agency?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a widely-accepted maxim that selecting high in the 2023 NBA Draft and executing big deals will be the only real avenues the Portland Trail Blazers have to make meaningful upgrades to their roster over the next few months.

The debate over a worthy return for Portland’s collection of picks and players is currently being fought out via social and traditional media. But what happens once free agency starts late on June 30? Big moves aren’t the only moves on the table this summer.

While Portland’s cap situation is restrictive, the franchise can still make additions via exceptions and veteran minimums. If the Blazers want to improve, veteran talent will be necessary via free agency to fortify the bench. They need experience to supplant the rookie and sophomore names that were prematurely called in to fill the void last season.

NBA teams over the salary cap line, as the Blazers are, have access to the Mid-Level Exception, traditionally a significant means of signing free agents who would otherwise be unaffordable by cap rule.

This year, the Blazers will likely teeter on the threshold between the full midlevel exception (around $12 million) and taxpayer version (around $5 million) depending on the cost of re-signing their own free agents.

The full exception is only available to teams with a payroll that does not exceed the tax apron (projected at around $169 million) after that exception is used. The Blazers already have nine players and almost $113 million on the books for 2023-24. With Jerami Grant in line for $30 million, combined with the potential return of two restricted free agents, maybe Justise Winslow and veteran minimum deals, we’re getting awfully close to the apron.

Today we’re going to focus on players the Blazers might add on to the roster via the midlevel exception. Because of their cap situation, we’ll focus on names that should still be available for the $5 million taxpayer amount but certainly would be for the larger number...not ideal prizes but realistic ones. Keep in mind also that teams can divide their midlevel exception among multiple players. Just because the maximum offer exists doesn’t mean they have to spend it all in one place.

Taxpayer Midlevel Targets

Caris LeVert (Cleveland Cavaliers), Wing

LeVert is an interesting case. The taxpayer midlevel exception could at the same time be both under and overvaluing his market. The 28-year-old has an impressive offensive repertoire, however lacks the defensive smarts on the other end of the floor.

If the Blazers are prioritizing two-way players this summer, the former Wolverine might be overlooked. I just can’t shake the memory of LeVert roasting the Blazers as a member of the Brooklyn Nets in the Orlando Bubble, dropping a whopping 37 points.

2022-23: 30.2 minutes, 12.1 points, 39.2% from three, 3.8 boards, 3.9 assists, 1.0 steals

Dario Saric (Oklahoma City Thunder), Big

Saric’s knee injury during Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals may have been a contributing factor that delivered the Milwaukee Bucks that the title that year. While not a starter, Saric provided passing, shooting and serviceable defense off the Phoenix Suns bench.

After his trade from Phoenix four months ago, the 29-year-old was a serviceable veteran presence off the young Oklahoma City Thunder bench, hitting 83 percent of his shots at the rim, sixth best among bigs. His 40 percent three point percentage post-trade also measured in the 87th percentile for big men. For the taxpayer midlevel amount, the 6’10 Croatian might be a nice addition in Portland.

2022-23: 14.1 minutes, 6.4 points, 39.1% from three, 3.6 boards, 1.3 assists, 0.4 steals

Georges Niang (Philadelphia 76ers), Forward

Niang was in the 98th percentile for corner threes among wings this past season, hitting 52 percent of his attempts from said area. He’s a 6’7 brute with some bulldog, who played decent rotation minutes for the 76ers during their seven-game Conference Semifinals defeat to the Boston Celtics. While the almost-30-year-old might be getting on in years, his games doesn’t really rely on athleticism, suggesting his skillset might age well.

The former second round pick also registered in the 90th percentile (86.7 percent) for forwards shooting free throws as well as a 59.9 effective field goal percentage, good enough for the 92nd percentile.

2022-23: 19.4 minutes, 8.2 points, 40.3% from three, 2.4 boards, 1.0 assists

Josh Richardson (New Orleans Pelicans), Wing

Richardson’s star has fallen since he was, for all intents and purposes, traded for Jimmy Butler as part of a four-team deal involving the Blazers during the 2019 offseason. The deal yielded Portland Hassan Whiteside in exchange for Meyers Leonard and Moe Harkless.

The 29-year-old is a three and D option, standing 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan and decent defensive instincts, highlighted by his place in the 88th percentile for blocks and 91st percentile for steals since the trade to the Pelicans. His three point shooting can be streaky, a trait that may be hindering him getting to that next level. But he is by no means a bad shooter and perhaps, like Matisse Thybulle, can solidify his shot in Portland.

2022-23: 23.5 minutes, 10.1 points, 36.5% from three, 2.7 boards, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals

Malik Beasley (Los Angeles Lakers), Wing

There’s some interesting full circle work here. Beasley was taken by the Denver Nuggets with the 19th pick in 2016, using the pick the Blazers traded to them to bring back Arron Afflalo a year earlier. Following his move to the Lakers at the deadline, Beasley registered in the 98th percentile for finishing at the rim at 83 percent among wings.

If Anfernee Simons is included in a deal for a wing in coming weeks, Damian Lillard may be the only smallish rotation player on the roster, making room for another offense first guard. It may even take the biannual exception to secure the 26-year-old depending on the number of suitors.

2022-23: 25.8 minutes, 12.7 points, 35.7% from three, 3.5 boards, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals

Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks), Big

This is probably overvaluing Powell, who might be had for the biannual exception or even a veteran minimum. The 6’10 Canadian plays in the mould of Ed Davis, doing the dirty work without the frills of some of your more notable big men. The 31-year-old is most effective guarding similar sized bigs with his pickpocketing ability placing Powell in the 85th percentile for big man steals last season. On offense he kept a 73.5 effective field goal percentage, (97th percentile) and 78 percentage at the rim (88th percentile), just don’t expect any threes.

2022-23: 19.2 minutes, 6.7 points, 4.1 boards, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals

Torrey Craig (Phoenix Suns), Forward

Another three and D small forward standing 6’7 with a meaty frame. It feels like Craig has been around forever, complementing contending teams with his ability to play a role. He’s an above average blocker, holding the league’s fourth best rate at his position last season.

On offense, his ability to hit corner threes at a 43 percent clip places the 32-year-old in the 79th percentile at his position. We might be overstating his price range at the taxpayer midlevel rate, but if there are enough teams interested, it could hike up Craig’s price.

2022-23: 24.7 minutes, 7.4 points, 39.5% from three, 5.4 boards, 1.5 assists, 0.8 blocks

Mason Plumlee (Los Angeles Clippers), Big

A familiar face traded from the Hornets at the trade deadline, Plumlee has established himself as a serviceable backup big since being traded for Jusuf Nurkic.

The 33-year-old’s shortish wingspan is outweighed by serviceable veteran guile on defense. Since his move back to the west coast, the seven footer held the eighth best effective field goal percentage among bigs at 72.4 percent. As most of us know, Plumlee is a savvy passer and we know he can work alongside Damian Lillard.

It’d also be ironic if he came back to Portland just as Nurkic was traded away.

2022-23: 26.0 minutes, 10.8 points, 8.9 boards, 3.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks

Seth Curry (Brooklyn Nets), Wing

Curry was able to resurrect his reputation in Portland after injures had derailed his career five years ago. My concerns over 32-year-old Curry are his defense and his 6’1 height, but, like Beasley, if the Blazers are looking for shooting off the bench, they need not look any further.

Last season, he ranked as the league’s 11th most accurate wing from midrange, seventh best from more than 14 feet out. Putting up 3.8 threes a game last season, Curry was still able to maintain 40-plus percent average.

2022-23: 19.9 minutes, 9.2 points, 40.5% from three, 1.6 boards, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals


Trade will no doubt be the Blazers best way towards improvement. But the taxpayer midlevel exception may also help in fortifying the bench, which hopefully looks a little more experienced next season.

The exception should get the Blazers a decent player with one or two glaring flaws. If used correctly, these players can be effective if they are put in positions to play to their strengths.

Cronin will also have access to the biannual exception and veteran minimum slots but if they’re so inclined, the midlevel exception will be crucial in adding rotation-level talent.