The Trail Blazers are burdened by some unpalatable long-term contracts, but the $112MM already on the books for 2018/19 is tolerable given that they’re in the running for home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
With little foreseeable cap space projected until the summer of 2020 at the earliest, the Blazers will have to make some decisions on whether to keep the current core together or make more ambitious, financially-driven moves to position themselves for the future.
The 2017/18 campaign saw general manager Neil Olshey unload 22-year-old Noah Vonleh at the trade deadline in order to duck under the luxury tax line. Could a deep postseason run in the spring be enough to convince franchise owner Paul Allen to blow by that threshold next year?
Jusuf Nurkic, C, 23 (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $8MM contract in 2014.
While Nurkic’s value tends to fluctuate from month to month, there’s no denying that he’s capable of big things if given an opportunity. Were it not for the Blazers’ financial binds, bringing back the Bosnian Beast on a significant deal would be a no-brainer. Alas, making or matching a significant offer for the big man would vault Portland well into the luxury tax, something that we’re not quite sure the club is willing to do yet. It would be a shame for the Blazers to watch Nurkic walk for nothing, so expect them to work the phones aggressively to see if they can find a way to make it work. If they can’t, he’ll get paid elsewhere, even with a glut of other available centers on the market.
Pat Connaughton, SG, 25 (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $3MM deal in 2015.
After two years of sparse playing time, Connaughton has carved out a role for himself in Portland’s rotation. The dual-threat athlete won’t break the bank as a restricted free agent, but could be a welcomed addition should the Blazers look to bring the familiar face back on the cheap.
Ed Davis, C, 29 (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $20MM deal in 2015.
While Davis has consistently established himself as an efficient player in reserve minutes, he’s never taken the leap to make a case for himself as a starter. The big man should be able to at least replicate his last contract considering his per-36 rates of 10.2 points and 14.0 boards, but don’t bank on that coming in Portland — he’s a replaceable piece of the current puzzle.
Shabazz Napier, PG, 26 (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $6MM contract in 2014.
It took Napier four years and three teams to find a home in the NBA, but he has finally come into his own in Oregon. The prolific 26-year-old combo guard has slotted in admirably behind Portland’s celebrated starting duo – a duo consisting of two other prolific combo guards – and has stepped up occasionally when called upon. In nine games as a starter, the former UConn standout has posted 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest, and may have shown just enough in those stints to draw an offer sheet out of a desperate team in restricted free agency. It’s hard to imagine Olshey digging deep to match an aggressive offer from a team with cap space to spare but that wouldn’t be for a lack of interest.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.