Free Agents (Cap Holds)
The Trail Blazers will be building from the ground up this offseason, both on and off the court. The team is currently in the midst of searching for its new general manager, who in turn will likely hire a new head coach shortly thereafter. And if that wasn't enough, the Blazers only have six players on guaranteed contracts for next year, including four guys making less than $2MM. Armed with plenty of cap space, the new GM will face an interesting challenge upon taking the job.
Although the Blazers have only about $26MM committed to their six guaranteed players, that doesn't mean the club will have $30MM+ in cap room at its disposal. Shawne Williams ($3.14MM) is a sure bet to opt into the final year of his contract. And even if the team renounces Jamal Crawford, J.J. Hickson, and all its other non-Nicolas Batum free agents, Batum's cap hold adds $5.39MM. If Portland holds steady in the lottery and picks sixth and 11th overall, that'll tack on another $4.33MM in rookie contracts. Throw in a few minimum-salary cap holds or rookies to fill out the roster, and the Blazers will have $40MM+ on their books before spending a single cent in free agency.
Still, with more than $17MM in cap room at their disposal, the Blazers are expected to be very active on the free agent market. A max or near-max offer to Deron Williams is a possibility, though I'd be very surprised if he landed in Portland. The Blazers could be strong contenders for any one of the second-tier of free agents though. With holes at point guard and center, the Blazers will probably at least kick the tires on players like Steve Nash, Goran Dragic, D.J. Augustin, Chris Kaman, Roy Hibbert, and Spencer Hawes.
One complication in the Blazers' pursuit of free agents is the status of their own restricted free agent, Nicolas Batum. Batum's agent recently indicated that he and his client won't wait around for Portland to use its cap space, but rather will sign the first lucrative offer sheet they receive. What does this mean for the Blazers? Well, if Batum signs an offer with another team worth $10MM annually, Portland has just three days to match the offer and retain the 23-year-old. And if the Blazers were to match the offer, Batum's cap hit would rise from $5.39MM to $10MM, reducing the Blazers' spending room from $17MM+ to under $13MM.
Even with that reduced cap flexibility, the Blazers should still be able to land a major free agent, perhaps one of the names I mentioned above. But if the team isn't in love with a particular free agent, or has concerns about recruiting players to Portland, the trade market is another option. Because they'll likely have a pair of lottery picks, the Blazers are in a great position to send one of them to a rebuilding team in exchange for a veteran contributor. The club could also take advantage of its cap space by taking on a veteran's salary in a trade. For instance, if the Blazers miss out on top free agent point guards like Williams and Nash, the Raptors would probably be all ears if Portland were to inquire on Jose Calderon and his $10MM+ salary.
The constant turnover in recent years suggests the Blazers' general manager job may not be a safe or desirable position, but the team's assets should certainly appeal to the new GM. Despite losing potential franchise cornerstones like Greg Oden and Brandon Roy to injuries, the Blazers have an All-Star to build around in LaMarcus Aldridge. With Batum expected to be retained, a pair of high draft picks in hand, and room under the cap to maneouever, the Blazers are in pretty good position to return to the postseason in the not-so-distant future.