Trail Blazers Rumors

Ariza Excited For Blazers Opportunity, Whiteside Tough To Move

New Trail Blazers trio Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel are excited for their new opportunity in Portland, according to Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com. And their new teammates are looking forward to integrating them into the team’s system as 19-27 Portland competes for the eighth seed in the West.

The Trail Blazers are currently the No. 11 seed, just 2.5 games shy of the current eighth seed, the 21-24 Grizzlies. The 34 year-old Ariza appears the most likely new player to be incorporated into the current rotation. He is in the first of a two-year, $25MM contract he signed with the Kings in 2019.

“At this point, we’ve really simplified everything that we’ve done over the years, so… I don’t think it will be that hard to catch on to,” said star Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “Like today at practice, they put in some of the sets that we’ve been running, the things that we do a lot and we didn’t have to stop practice to be like ‘Alright, this what we gotta do.’ [Ariza] just kinda remembered it, it was pretty simple for him.” 

  • Though the Trail Blazers are clearly eager to cut more contracts to get under the luxury tax this spring, The Athletic’s Jason Quick suspects that GM Neil Olshey may have trouble offloading $98MM center Hassan Whiteside. Quick puts Whiteside’s odds of remaining in Portland through the February 6 trade deadline at 50/50.

Lillard Remains Loyal Despite Rough Blazers Season

Damian Lillard remains committed to the Trail Blazers regardless of what they do before the trade deadline, Jason Quick of The Athletic reports.

Lillard signed a four-year, $196MM super-max extension last summer and isn’t having second thoughts about it despite Portland’s tough season. The Blazers have been hit hard by injuries and Lillard doesn’t see a big trade changing the team’s fortunes this season.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard told Quick. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.”

Lillard says he has a good relationship with GM Neil Olshey but doesn’t interfere with the front office’s business.

“I don’t like to be involved with (teammates’) futures and all that,” he said. “If it’s free agency, and (Olshey) wants to ask me about somebody — if I think they can help the team or what players I like or whatever? I’m more than happy. But you know, I stay out of Neil’s way. I let him do his job and I do mine. I will lose every game before I go in there and be like, ‘Trade this guy for that guy’ or anything like that.”

Lillard has been on fire lately, scoring a combined 108 points over the past two games. But the team is mired in 10th place in the Western Conference with a 19-27 record, a huge letdown after reaching the conference finals last season.

Lillard is hopeful the Blazers can still reach the playoffs but doesn’t see the need to sacrifice the future to make that happen.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over,” he said. “We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (vs. Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

Jusuf Nurkic Practices In Full, Inching Toward Return

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is progressing toward a return from the serious leg injuries he suffered last March. Nurkic fully participated in practice on Wednesday, including a 5-on-5 halfcourt scrimmage, Jason Quick of The Athletic tweets.

“I guess it’s a milestone, but it’s part of his progression,’‘ head coach Terry Stotts said.

The team had targeted this week to increase his workload, but there’s still no definitive date for his return to action, Quick adds.

Nurkic, 25, was a major reason for Portland’s success in recent seasons. He was enjoying a career year, posting a career high 15.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.2 APG and 1.4 BPG before he suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula in a double-overtime win over the Nets on March 25.

The most recent report regarding a timetable indicated that Nurkic and the club were targeting a return close to the All-Star break next month.

Portland has been one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season. Its 19-26 record ranks 10th in the Western Conference, though the Blazers are not far from the eighth and final playoff spot. Injuries to Zach Collins and Rodney Hood have factored into the severe drop-off after winning 53 games in the regular season a year ago and advancing to the Western Conference finals.

Nurkic’s return could certainly boost their prospects of returning to the postseason, though Hassan Whiteside (15.5 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 3.0 BPG) has been a solid replacement in the middle after being acquired from the Heat during the offseason.

Checking In On NBA’s Projected Taxpayers For 2019/20

Following their cost-cutting trade with the Kings, the Trail Blazers no longer project to have the NBA’s highest tax bill for the 2019/20 season. That honor instead belongs to the Warriors, one of a small handful of teams that will be subject to the league’s more punitive repeater penalties if they’re in the tax at season’s end.

These numbers are fluid and will almost certainly change in the coming months, but here are the current projected luxury tax bills for teams this season, via ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link):

  • Golden State Warriors: $14.99MM
  • Portland Trail Blazers: $9.65MM
  • Miami Heat: $6.65MM
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: $2.3MM
  • Houston Rockets: $372K

As Marks point out, the projected payouts for non-taxpaying teams are lower than usual — based on the current figures, non-taxpayers would receive approximately $680K apiece (50% of the total tax payments, split among 25 teams). By contrast, non-taxpayers received about $3.1MM each in 2018/19.

This season looks like it could end up looking more like the 2016/17 campaign, which featured the lowest tax payouts of the decade due to the infamous ’16 cap spike. That cap spike left the Cavaliers and Clippers as the NBA’s only clubs in the tax for that year, resulting in payouts of about $507K apiece for the 28 non-taxpayers.

[RELATED: Recent History of NBA Taxpaying Teams]

The end-of-season payouts for non-taxpayers this season will actually probably end up being even lower than $680K. None of the five projected taxpayers listed above are more than about $6.2MM above the luxury tax threshold, so many of them have a path to potentially getting out of tax territory altogether.

The Thunder and Rockets, in particular, look like candidates to sneak below the tax threshold by moving low-cost trade chips like Justin Patton and Nene. The Blazers could theoretically get there too with a bigger deal involving a player like Hassan Whiteside. It’ll be more of a challenge for the hard-capped Warriors and Heat, but not impossible.

For every team that gets out of the tax, the amount of the league-wide tax payments at season’s end will decrease and the number of non-taxpaying clubs will increase, resulting in a smaller pot to be split among a greater number of franchises. In other words, no non-taxpaying NBA team should be counting on a major windfall from taxpayers at the end of the ’19/20 campaign.

Blazers Retain DPE Following Trade With Kings

  • As part of their trade with Sacramento, the Trail Blazers used Anthony Tolliver‘s outgoing salary to match Caleb Swanigan‘s incoming contract rather than taking on Swanigan using their disabled player exception, tweets Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights. As a result, Portland won’t create a $1.62MM traded player exception, but will still have its $2.86MM disabled player exception available. The DPE will expire on March 10, while the TPE would’ve been available for a year.

Kings, Trail Blazers Complete Five-Player Trade

JANUARY 21: The trade between the Kings and Trail Blazers is now official, according to press releases issued by both teams.

JANUARY 18: The Kings and Trail Blazers have agreed to a trade that will send Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver to Sacramento in exchange for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Shams Charania of The Athletic first reported (via Twitter) that the Blazers are trading Bazemore to Sacramento.

The Kings will also receive Portland’s second-round picks in 2024 and 2025 as part of the deal, a source tells Sam Amick of The Athletic (Twitter link). ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes (via Twitter) that the swap can’t be officially completed until Tuesday, when Gabriel’s trade restriction lifts.

For Portland, the deal represents a cost-cutting move that shouldn’t impact the team’s on-court performance too drastically, if at all. Both Ariza and Bazemore have had down years so far, but Bazemore’s drop-off has been more precipitous —  he has posted a career-worst .347 FG% to go along with a .327 3PT%. Ariza is at least still knocking down his threes (.352 3PT%) at his usual career rate, even as his role was reduced in Sacramento.

Tolliver had been a rotation player for the Blazers, with 16.8 minutes per game in 33 contests, but hasn’t been at his best either — his .368 FG% is his worst mark since he was a rookie in 2008/09.

Bazemore and Tolliver are earning a combined $20.89MM, compared to a total of $15.68MM for Ariza, Swanigan, and Gabriel. Besides trimming more than $5MM off the Blazers’ team salary, the deal will also reduce the organization’s projected tax bill by $12.6MM, according to Marks (via Twitter).

Additionally, the Blazers will create a pair of traded player exceptions, including one worth just over $7MM, since they have a disabled player exception available to acquire Swanigan. The team will have the opportunity to keep Ariza for the 2020/21 season if he finishes the year strong. His $12.8MM salary for ’20/21 is partially guaranteed for $1.8MM, per Basketball Insiders.

It’s not clear if Swanigan and Gabriel fit into Portland’s plans, though it’s worth noting Swanigan was originally drafted by the Blazers before being traded to the Kings a year ago. Both players are on expiring contracts. Portland won’t need to cut anyone to make room to accommodate the three incoming players, since the club already had an open roster spot.

As for the Kings’ side of the deal, Amick observes (via Twitter) that it opens up a roster spot immediately and also creates slightly more flexibility moving forward, since Bazemore and Tolliver are on expiring contracts. The Ariza signing hadn’t worked out like the franchise had hoped, so Sacramento will hope that Bazemore can bounce back and that Tolliver looks more he did when he was a member of the Kings in 2016/17 and shot .442/.391/.744.

There are no plans to buy out Bazemore, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, who tweets that the veteran swingman has a “great relationship” with head coach Luke Walton and the Kings’ front office.

Even if the Kings’ new additions keep slumping, the team will come away with a pair of future assets in the trade by picking up the Blazers’ 2024 and 2025 second-round picks. Sacramento had already acquired multiple extra second-rounders for 2020 and 2021, so the team is building up quite a stash of draft picks, which could be useful in future deals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

23 Trade Exceptions To Expire Within Next Month

As NBA teams consider their trade options before the February 6 deadline, it’s worth keeping in mind that a number of clubs hold traded player exceptions. These traded player exceptions allow over-the-cap clubs to acquire a player – or multiple players – whose salary fits within the TPE without having to send out any salary in return.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors Glossary: Traded Player Exception]

Traded player exceptions can’t be combined with another salary or exception and often aren’t worth much, so most of them ultimately go unused. Still, they can come in handy every now and then, particularly for under-the-tax clubs that don’t mind adding a little more money to their books.

Last season, a total of 23 trades were completed between January 22 and February 7, resulting in 23 trade exceptions that haven’t yet been used or renounced and will expire if they’re not used by this year’s trade deadline.

Here are those traded player exceptions, listed in order of value, with the expiration date noted in parentheses for each TPE:

  • Dallas Mavericks: $11,825,694 (2/7)
  • Miami Heat: $6,270,000 (2/7)
  • Houston Rockets: $3,620,016 (2/7)
  • Houston Rockets: $3,206,160 (2/7)
  • Toronto Raptors: $2,536,898 (2/7)
  • Detroit Pistons: $2,500,000 (2/6)
  • Portland Trail Blazers: $1,740,000 (2/7)
  • Houston Rockets: $1,621,415 (2/7)
  • Toronto Raptors: $1,569,360 (2/6)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: $1,544,951 (2/7)
  • Houston Rockets: $1,544,951 (2/7)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: $1,544,951 (2/3)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: $1,512,601 (2/7)
  • Houston Rockets: $1,512,601 (1/22)
  • Houston Rockets: $1,512,601 (2/7)
  • Memphis Grizzlies: $1,512,601 (2/7)
  • Toronto Raptors: $1,512,601 (2/7)
  • Dallas Mavericks: $1,233,152 (1/31)
  • Detroit Pistons: $1,140,682 (2/7)
  • Washington Wizards: $311,913 (2/6)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: $266,728 (2/4)
  • Memphis Grizzlies: $184,467 (2/7)
  • Washington Wizards: $183,148 (2/7)

For the full list of traded player exceptions currently available, including a Warriors TPE worth $17MM that probably can’t be used until July, click here.

Trail Blazers May Look To Get Under Cap With More Trades

Reactions To Kings-Trail Blazers Trade

Today’s five-player trade with Portland is the start of an in-season reboot for the Kings, writes Jason Jones of The Athletic. Sacramento was willing to provide financial relief for the Trail Blazers by taking on the remainder of Kent Bazemore‘s $19.3MM expiring contract in the deal, which also netted Anthony Tolliver and a pair of future second-round picks.

By sending out three players in return, the Kings create roster flexibility that could be important in a potential trade of Dewayne Dedmon, Jones adds. The center, who signed a three-year, $40MM contract in free agency, lost his starting job after four games and has been vocal in his displeasure over a reduced role.

Jones notes that the deal is an admission that the summer’s free agency haul was a disappointment. Dedmon appears on the way out, and sending Trevor Ariza to Portland probably had to be done to make that happen. Jones relays that coach Luke Walton was fond of Ariza, but his contract is only partially guaranteed for next season so he may not have been part of the Kings’ future.

Jones believes anyone on Sacramento’s roster — apart from De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III and Buddy Hield — is a candidate to be traded by the February 6 deadline, even Bogdan Bogdanovic, who will be a restricted free agent this summer.

There’s more reaction to today’s trade announcement:

  • The Kings have been collecting second-rounders and were happy to add two more, observes James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. With the addition of Portland’s picks in 2024 and 2025, Sacramento now has 13 second-round selections over the next six seasons. Ham adds that the value of those picks could increase once the league lowers the age requirement for the draft to 18, which is expected by 2022.
  • The trade is a signal that the Blazers have decided to “punt” the rest of the season, claims John Canzano of The Oregonian. He calls it understandable considering Portland had the highest payroll in the league and no playoff hopes other than possibly snatching the eighth seed. He also questions why president of basketball operations Neil Olshey decided to blow up a roster that reached the Western Conference finals last year, trading Evan Turner to the Hawks for Bazemore and sending Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to the Heat for Hassan Whiteside.
  • Jason Quick of the Athletic talked to Bazemore on Friday night about the possibility of being traded. Bazemore had been hoping for a long stay in Portland, but he took a wait-and-see approach after several weeks of hearing his name in trade rumors. “I’ve been around long enough now, man, another day in the life, bro,” he said. “I ain’t even thought about it, honestly. Been traded before … I just go out and ready to go and continue to get better and be my best when the time is right.”

Southwest Notes: Anthony, Zion, Porzingis, Brooks

Carmelo Anthony is downplaying tonight’s return to Houston for the first time since last year’s failed experiment, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Anthony signed with the Rockets last summer, but only played 10 games before being pulled from the rotation. He remained on the roster but away from the team for about two months before being traded to Chicago in January.

Although GM Daryl Morey made several attempts over the years to acquire Anthony, once the Rockets landed him they found his mid-range game wasn’t compatible with their preferred offense.

“I honestly don’t have any feelings about going back,” Anthony said. “I was only there a couple weeks. I don’t really have any type of feelings going back.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Now that No. 1 pick Zion Williamson has a target date for his NBA debut, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer examines how New Orleans will use him during the second half of the season. Despite a dismal start, the Pelicans entered the night just four games out of a playoff spot, and O’Connor notes that 14 of their final 15 games will be against teams with losing records. “I’ve heard the narrative that he shouldn’t play at all, but that would be absurd from where he is,” head of basketball operations David Griffin said. “He’s worked this hard because he intends to play basketball and he wants to lead his guys. He’s going to be an alpha as a vocal presence; you can’t be that when you’re not playing basketball.”
  • After initially being listed as available, Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis was a late scratch for tonight’s game at Sacramento, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. It marks the ninth straight game that Porzingis has missed because of soreness in his right knee, combined with an illness that prevented him from working out for a few days. The team is “playing it safe,” MacMahon adds (Twitter link). Dallas is 4-4 so far without him.
  • Dillon Brooks met the starter criteria by starting his 41st game of the season for the Grizzlies last night, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. As a result, his qualifying offer will increase from $2MM to $3.1MM, which will also be the amount of his free agent cap hold.