The Trail Blazers have shaken up their roster in a major way within the last few days, trading Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers on Friday and reaching an agreement today on a deal that will send CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell to New Orleans.
Despite some speculation that the series of moves could lead to a Damian Lillard trade, that’s not Portland’s plan. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link), the Blazers intend to “fully reshape” their roster around Lillard, who is currently recovering from abdominal surgery.
As Wojnarowski explains, the Blazers plan to pursue “high-end talent” now and won’t embark on a more full-scale teardown that involves moving Lillard. Outlining the ammo available to Portland, Woj says the team has multiple draft picks and assets from its trades with the Clippers and Pelicans, will create a $21MM trade exception in the McCollum deal, and could have up to $60MM in cap room this summer.
Portland will indeed create a trade exception worth about $20.9MM, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. Since they’ll be able to match the incoming salaries of Josh Hart, Didi Louzada, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker using Nance’s and Snell’s outgoing contracts, the Blazers will create an exception worth the difference between McCollum’s $30.9MM salary and Satoransky’s $10MM salary.
However, Wojnarowski’s projection of $60MM in cap room isn’t realistic at this point. The Blazers currently have $68.6MM in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season, according to Marks (Twitter link). That’s only about $52.3MM below the projected cap, and it doesn’t include any cap holds, including the ones for free-agents-to-be Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, or Portland’s one or two lottery picks. It also assumes the Blazers will waive both Hart and Eric Bledsoe, which is possible, but not a lock.
The Blazers’ cap space seems more likely to end up in the $20-30MM range, though that projection remains very much in flux, especially if the club makes additional moves this week. In order to take advantage of that space, Portland would have to renounce whatever is left of its $20.9MM trade exception.
Whatever the Blazers’ cap situation ultimately looks like, their plan to build around Lillard will hinge on the point guard’s willingness to buy in. Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian (Twitter link) says he has heard multiple times that Lillard is on board with a major retooling of the roster since he recognizes this season is a lost cause.
Still, the front office will be under pressure this offseason to adequately build around Lillard or risk having him eventually ask for a trade, according to Fentress (Twitter links), who thinks the 31-year-old will want out if the club fails to add the proper pieces around him.