When Portland sent CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. to New Orleans earlier this month in a package headlined by Josh Hart and draft assets, it wasn’t clear if the Trail Blazers actually coveted Hart or if he was a candidate to be flipped to another team by the retooling Blazers.
Speaking to Jason Quick of The Athletic, Blazers interim general manager Joe Cronin made it clear he’s a big fan of Hart and views the veteran wing as a long-term fit with the franchise.
“He’s a keeper,” Cronin said. “Josh embodies what we are trying to build here. The talent level, the skill set, the competitiveness, the IQ, the defensive-minded, guard-anyone approach. His ability to make others better, to make shots, push the ball. … We targeted him, and it’s that type of player who we want. We want to find more Josh Harts at different positions.”
Hart, who will turn 27 on Sunday, has averaged 19.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 4.2 APG on 54.0% shooting in five games (33.6 MPG) since being traded to Portland. He’s under contract for two more years beyond this one, though the structure of his deal is somewhat unusual.
Hart’s $12.96MM salary for 2022/23 is non-guaranteed, so if the Blazers want to maximize their cap room this summer, they could theoretically waive him to create an additional $12MM+ in space, but that appears extremely unlikely. Hart’s $12.96MM salary for 2023/24 is also non-guaranteed. However, he holds a player option for that season, so he could opt out in 2023 to seek a new deal if he has outperformed his current contract.
Here are a few more noteworthy comments from Cronin, via The Athletic:
- Cronin tells Quick that he has also been extremely impressed with Justise Winslow, whom the Blazers acquired from the Clippers in their Robert Covington/Norman Powell trade. According to Cronin, Winslow – like Hart – fits “the style and the mentality” the team wants to play with. “Those type of players are not easy to find,” Cronin said. “The Josh Harts of the world, the Justise Winslows of the world, they are not easily attainable. That’s where we are trying to create as many tools and ammunition to be able to go and find those types of players.”
- Cronin identified Joe Ingles as a player who “has the unique mix of talent, skillset and mentality we are looking for” and suggested that acquiring him from Utah was “about the player” rather than the expiring contract. I’m a little skeptical of that statement, since I’d be surprised if the Blazers push very hard to re-sign a 34-year-old who will spend a chunk of next season recovering from an ACL tear and who has previously expressed a desire to return to a division rival.
- While the Blazers’ deadline deals cleared out a backcourt logjam to a certain extent, Cronin said the team still has to “balance the roster.” However, he’s more concerned about continuing to stockpile talent. “If there is a two guard (in the draft) that is head-and-shoulders above the other positions, we are taking the two guard, then figure it out,” Cronin said. “We can’t dismiss the talent part to be able to compete at the level we want to compete at.”