- While the aforementioned players were being knocked out of action, one injured player returned to his team’s lineup on Monday, as Al-Farouq Aminu was active for the Trail Blazers after being sidelined for nearly a month due to a calf injury (Associated Press link via ESPN.com). Aminu saw 17 minutes of action in his return for Portland.
Things worked out fine for Meyers Leonard in Portland, but not without some difficulty, writes Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders. Leonard turned down a $40MM extension offer from the Blazers in 2015 in hopes of cashing in as a free agent. Instead, he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in March and missed the rest of the season, throwing a wrench into his free agency plans. “It was a complete nightmare last year,” Leonard said. “Last year was the hardest year of my life, not even close. I lied to my entire family the whole year. I told them I was okay, I wasn’t. I came from nothing and I turned down $40 million.” Ultimately, the Blazers chose to keep Leonard, giving him $41MM over four seasons.
- Off to a disappointing start, the Blazers would likely have to surrender guard C.J. McCollum in any deal to bring in a star, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Golliver said in an interview with John Canzano of The Oregonian. Portland would probably be reluctant to part with McCollum after giving him a maximum extension in July.
The Trail Blazers were Hassan Whiteside‘s second choice in free agency, writes Erik Garcia Gunderson in The Miami Herald. Portland reportedly pursued Whiteside, but didn’t get to meet with him before he re-signed with Miami. The center’s first meeting was with Heat president Pat Riley at midnight July 1st, and the only other team he talked with before making a decision was the Mavericks. “Portland was my second option,” Whiteside said before Saturday’s game with the Blazers. “I would have came here.” The Blazers, who used their cap space to add Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli and to re-sign their own free agents, currently have the worst defensive rating in the league.
There’s more news from Miami:
- Josh McRoberts may have claimed the Heat’s starting power forward role with his play of late, contends Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. McRoberts has scored in double figures in his last two games and is making a strong push to stay in the starting lineup. That will leave coach Erik Spoelstra with a difficult decision when Justise Winslow is healthy enough to return, Winderman notes, with Winslow possibly being used as a versatile sixth man who can fill in at several positions.
- The Heat may trade some of their free agent additions for draft picks if they slip out of contention, Winderman writes in the same column. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington will all be eligible for deals starting December 15th. Because of injures and the fact that the playoffs are still a possibility after a slow start, Winderman doesn’t expect any of the three to be moved right away.
- Johnson’s scoring has been a pleasant surprise for Miami, notes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. The eighth-year forward has the highest scoring average of his career at 9.9 points per game and is shooting a career-best .344 from 3-point range. Johnson, who was sought mainly for his defense, leads all NBA forwards by holding the players he defends to 33.2 percent from the field. Johnson signed a one-year, $4MM deal and will be a free agent again next summer.
After committing about $340MM to new contracts this offseason, the Trail Blazers are off to a slow start so far, and while that’s no reason to panic, it’s cause for some concern, says Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. As Deveney notes, Portland general manager Neil Olshey has a reputation for being fairly cautious with his personnel, so the team is unlikely to shake things up too significantly anytime soon. Still, the Blazers will definitely be a club to watch prior to this year’s trade deadline, particularly if their middling performance continues.
One side effect of the NBA’s huge salary cap spike this summer was that fewer teams are in danger of paying the luxury tax. The Cavaliers remain well above the tax line, but they’re the only club guaranteed of being a taxpayer in 2017.
The Clippers have the league’s second-highest team payroll so far this season, exceeding $114.74MM. That puts Los Angeles above the tax threshold, which is $113.287MM, but not by much — if the Clips really wanted to avoid paying the tax, they could likely find a trade at the deadline that would allow them to sneak under that line, though it may cost a draft pick or two, depending on whose salary they move.
Of course, the Clippers’ tax bill wouldn’t be exorbitant if their team salary stays where it is now. As our Salary Cap Snapshot for the team shows, we’ve calculated L.A.’s projected tax bill to be worth about $3.633MM, which would hardly break the bank for owner Steve Ballmer. Still, shedding that bill isn’t the only incentive for the team to avoid the tax.
Luxury tax payments are always more punitive for repeat taxpayers, and this would be the Clippers’ fourth straight season in the tax. Teams are considered repeat taxpayers if they’ve been in the tax for at least three of the last four seasons, so perhaps the Clippers – recognizing that new contracts for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin next summer may put them back into the tax anyway – won’t feel compelled to get out for just one season, but it’s still worth considering.
Additionally, the money paid by teams in the tax ends up being partially split up by the clubs below the tax line. In 2016, the 23 non-taxpaying teams each received about $2.5MM in total tax payments from the seven taxpaying clubs. With only the Cavs in the tax this year, that amount would be smaller, but again, it’s a factor worth taking into account.
While it will be interesting to keep an eye on the Clippers’ cap situation over the course of the season, they’re not the only team close to the tax line. Currently, the Trail Blazers and Mavericks are getting dangerously close to that threshold. Here’s a breakdown of how things look for those two teams:
Portland Trail Blazers
Team salary for cap purposes: $112,823,450
Team salary for tax purposes: $113,260,410
Amount below tax: $26,590
Salary Cap Snapshot
Since Tim Quarterman was signed as a free agent, the two-year minimum salary ($980,431) is used in place of his rookie salary ($543,471), bumping the Trail Blazers dangerously close to the tax line. That detail on Quarterman’s contract, along with the fact that his is the only non-guaranteed salary on the team’s books, makes his hold on a roster spot perilous. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him waived on or before the January guarantee deadline.
Still, the Blazers are widely considered one of the NBA’s most likely teams to complete at least one trade this season. ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently suggested he’d be “blown away” if Portland doesn’t make at least one deal. The team would likely have to come close to matching salaries in any deal, but there’s some wiggle room within those trade rules, and if the Blazers can shave off even $1-2MM in a deal, it would create a significant amount of breathing room for a team right up against the tax line.
Considering the Blazers’ current 2017/18 guaranteed salaries would put them well over the projected tax threshold for next season, staying below the tax this year figures to be a priority for the club.
Team salary for cap purposes: $110,920,751
Team salary for tax purposes: $112,715,267
Amount below tax: $571,733
Salary Cap Snapshot
Like the Blazers, the Mavs see their team salary for tax purposes increase a little due to free agents with less than two years of experience. Dorian Finney-Smith, Nicolas Brussino, and Jonathan Gibson (who was signed to a guaranteed contract, waived, then re-signed) are among them. In total, Dallas is less than $600K from the tax line, but there are reasons to believe the team should avoid surpassing that line.
For one, Finney-Smith and Gibson are still on partially guaranteed contracts, so they could be waived prior to January’s guarantee deadline to avoid having their full salaries count against the cap.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Mavs simply don’t look like a contender this season, having started the season with an NBA-worst 2-12 record. Assuming the team doesn’t go on a lengthy winning streak to climb back into the postseason hunt, the front office should be more inclined to sell than buy at this season’s trade deadline.
It’s not clear yet exactly what pieces the Mavs would move if they become sellers, but Andrew Bogut looks like a prime trade candidate. One team executive recently suggested to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that Bogut would draw “plenty” of trade interest if Dallas put him on the block, while Bill Simmons – O’Connor’s boss at The Ringer – tweeted today that the Celtics would be a good fit for the veteran big man. Bogut is earning more than $11MM this season, so if the Mavs were to acquire contracts worth about $8-9MM in return for Bogut, they’d comfortably distance themselves from the tax threshold.
In a Wednesday edition of The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN’s Marc Stein and Zach Lowe discussed several teams who could make a trade at some point this season, and several players who are candidates to be moved. Both ESPN reporters agreed that the Trail Blazers are one of the most likely clubs to complete a deal within the next three months, with Lowe suggesting he’d be “blown away” if Portland doesn’t make at least one trade. Stein also identified the Kings, Suns, Nuggets, and Celtics as clubs to watch for potential deals.
Evan Turner says it’s nice to know he’s missed in Boston, even as he struggles to find a role in Portland, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Turner accepted a four-year, $70MM deal this summer to head to the Pacific Northwest. However, the Trail Blazers haven’t used him as a primary ballhandler the way the Celtics did, and he has found it hard to adjust to a backcourt rotation with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. “I was most definitely comfortable there [in Boston],” Turner said. “There were certain situations where there were coaches that didn’t really sort of comprehend my game, and sometimes I wasn’t always in position to be comfortable or successful. So when you finally find that mixture of great basketball and off the court and things like that, you definitely don’t take it for granted.”
- The Blazers haven’t shown significant improvement so far despite raising their payroll from $62MM to $112MM, contends Bobby Marks of The Vertical. Portland will have a hard time shaking things up until at least December 15th when the trade restrictions expire for Turner and Festus Ezeli. Restrictions for Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless will remain in effect until January 15th. Crabbe cannot be traded without his approval for a year because the Blazers matched an offer sheet from Brooklyn.
The Trail Blazers’ offseason spending spree has left the team “ripe for a trade,” Zach Lowe writes in his latest piece for ESPN.com. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve heard about Portland’s trade possibilities, and the speculation makes sense — having extended C.J. McCollum, the Blazers are poised to blow past the salary cap threshold in 2017/18, so they’ll probably want to move a contract or two at some point unless they’re prepared to pay a huge tax bill.
As Lowe observes, general manager Neil Olshey pursued Hassan Whiteside in free agency this summer, and “has a well-documented fondness” for traditional low-post scorers like Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, and Nikola Vucevic. Jusuf Nurkic, Tyson Chandler, and Kosta Koufos are a few of the other centers identified by Lowe as players the Blazers may chase at some point in a trade. Lowe also names Nerlens Noel, though he admits that the league “doesn’t quite know what to make” of the Sixers’ big man.
Making a deal with a team like the 76ers, Nets, Nuggets, or Suns, who all have an excess of cap room, could make sense if the Blazers are trying to shed some salary. As Lowe points out, a swap involving Lopez and Allen Crabbe, whom the Nets tried to sign in July, could make some sense, but CBA rules don’t allow Brooklyn to acquire Crabbe until the 2017/18 league year after he signed the team’s offer sheet.
It’s unclear which assets the Blazers would be willing to give up for a second- or third-tier center who might not move the needle significantly for the club. As Lowe notes, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu would have value as trade chips, but they’re probably more valuable to Portland as players. Crabbe and Evan Turner, meanwhile, are in the first year of huge, long-term deals, which limits their appeal. According to Lowe, Turner was “almost as stunned as you” by the four-year, $70MM offer he received from the Blazers in the offseason — Turner excitedly told close friend Andre Iguodala about the offer, and his former teammate told him to accept it immediately.
In Lowe’s view, it would be more daring for the Blazers to explore the trade market for McCollum, though the ESPN scribe doesn’t expect the team to do so. For now, the team remains in wait-and-see mode on all of their players, as they assess how their pieces fit together.
What do you think? What sort of trade might make sense for the Blazers as they try to make the leap from solid playoff team to legit title contender? Is there a deal that could be out there sooner rather than later, or should the club wait until the 2017 offseason to seriously shake things up? Jump into the comments section below to share your thoughts on Portland’s next step!
- Trail Blazers shooting guard Allen Crabbe didn’t believe the Nets’ $75MM offer sheet was real when he first heard about it, relays Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily. Portland matched the four-year deal, keeping Crabbe in a Blazers uniform, but he would have been happy to come to Brooklyn if things had worked out differently. “When I met with them, they were straightforward and told me, ‘Look we’ve got a lot of young guys here that are looking to compete. We’re going to try and build from here,’” Crabbe said. “So you know, I felt like that was a positive first step going into something good being built here. I liked everything about how they were going to use me. But you know, everything happens for a reason and I’m back here and I’m happy with that.”
The concept of “dead money” on a salary cap isn’t as common in the NBA as it is in the NFL, but it essentially functions the same way in both leagues. Dead money refers to the salary remaining on a team’s cap for players that are no longer on the roster.
For NFL teams, taking on a certain amount of dead money is a common practice, since signing bonuses affect cap hits differently, and big-money players are more likely to be released before playing out their entire contracts. That practice is less common in the NBA.
Still, with the NBA’s salary cap on the rise, teams may be a little more willing to part ways with players on guaranteed salaries, since that increased cap gives clubs more flexibility than they used to have. Within the last month, we’ve seen players like Ronnie Price and Greivis Vasquez, who each had $4-5MM in guaranteed money left on their contracts, waived in order to clear room for newcomers.
We’ve examined each of the NBA’s 30 teams, breaking them down by division, determining which teams are carrying the most dead money on the cap for 2016/17, and assessing what that might tell us about those teams. We’ve already examined the Central, Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest, and Pacific divisions. Today, we’ll turn our attention to the Northwest division to wrap things up.
Here are the 2016/17 dead money figures for the Northwest teams:
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Total dead money: $9,360,305
Full salary cap breakdown
Only two NBA teams – the Sixers and Nets – are currently carrying more dead money on their 2016/17 salary cap than the Timberwolves. And like those other clubs, Minnesota remains below the salary floor, so those dead-money charges aren’t hurting the team too much. Kevin Garnett ($8MM) is responsible for most of the Wolves’ dead money, and if he had made his retirement decision earlier, the club could have stretched his cap hit across three years. Still, Minnesota may have chosen to apply the entire amount to this season’s cap anyway, since the club has excess cap room at the moment and won’t have to worry about KG’s charges after June. The rest of the Wolves’ 2016/17 dead money comes from Kevin Martin ($1.36MM).
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Total dead money: $4,358,585
Full salary cap breakdown
The Thunder’s management of their cap has been interesting, as the team has been willing to waive players with guaranteed salaries, like Ronnie Price ($2.558MM) and Mitch McGary ($1.526MM). Oklahoma City was also fairly generous with its partial guarantees for camp invitees, such as Chris Wright ($100K), Kaleb Tarczewski ($75K), Alex Caruso ($50K), and Reggie Williams ($50K).
So it was a little surprising when the Thunder essentially dumped Ersan Ilyasova‘s $8.4MM salary in a trade with the Sixers earlier this month, opening up cap room and reducing their year-end salary bill, at the cost of a future conditional first-round pick. Perhaps Philadelphia simply coveted Ilyasova, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the Thunder the rest of the way to see if they do anything with that newfound cap room.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
Total dead money: $1,984,005
Full salary cap breakdown
Anderson Varejao‘s $1.984MM cap hit is the only dead money on the Trail Blazers’ books, and that contract was one worth taking on, since it landed Portland a future first-round pick. Still, the Blazers will likely do everything they can to avoid eating more salary this season. As it stands, the club is less than $500K from the tax line, so even replacing one minimum salary player with another could have major financial implications for the team.
4. Denver Nuggets
Total dead money: $1,380,431
Full salary cap breakdown
The Nuggets have several players contributing dead-money charges to their cap, ranging from Nick Johnson ($980K) to camp invitees like D.J. Kennedy ($50K) and Nate Wolters ($50K). Most recently, Denver waived Jarnell Stokes, who had a $150K guarantee, and the team likely won’t hesitate to continue rolling over its roster and eating salary if necessary — with only about $75MM in total salary on their books for 2016/17, the Nuggets currently sit well below the salary floor.
5. Utah Jazz
Total dead money: $275,000
Full salary cap breakdown
The Jazz have kept a very clean cap sheet for 2016/17, with their only dead-money charges coming in the form of partial guarantees for camp invitees — Marcus Paige ($125K), Quincy Ford ($75K), and Henry Sims ($75K). As a result, the team is more than $13MM under the cap, which come in handy, since George Hill and Derrick Favors are both eligible for extensions. With the ability to give either player a significant raise for ’16/17, the Jazz have a great opportunity to lock up one of those two players and keep them off the market, if they so choose.
Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post.