- Trail Blazers reserve Pat Connaughton may be hanging up sneakers for cleats as the former fourth round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft could pursue a professional baseball career, Molly Blue of The Oregonian writes. Connaughton averaged 2.5 PPG as a backup point guard last season and if his NBA dream doesn’t show promise, he could change professions. The 24-year-old has been clocked at 90 mph on the diamond and the Orioles, the team that drafted him, would be happy to help him with the transition.
- The Trail Blazers are expected to hold a private workout with University of California product Ivan Rabb after the combine, according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes (via Twitter). Rabb, 20, has spent the last two seasons with the Golden Bears; the 6’11” center averaged 14.0 PPG and 10.5 RPG this past season.
After a successful 2015/16 campaign that included a first-round playoff victory over the Clippers, the Trail Blazers kept their roster intact by retaining restricted free agents like Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless. However, those players didn’t take major steps forward in 2016/17, and the team’s outside free agent additions – Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli – failed to have the desired impact.
A mid-season trade for a first-round pick and Jusuf Nurkic, who averaged a double-double in his 20 games for Portland, was a slick move by president Neil Olshey and the front office, and helped the team earn a postseason spot. However, the Blazers were quickly dispatched by the top-seeded Warriors and will now head into the offseason with more guaranteed 2017/18 money on their books than any other NBA club.
Here are five questions facing the Blazers as they enter the offseason…
As detailed below, the Blazers currently have more than $133MM in guaranteed salaries on their books for 2017/18, which is a staggering amount, considering the tax threshold projects to be about $121MM. Standing pat with a roster that is set to go deep into tax territory after earning a No. 8 seed probably isn’t a viable option for Olshey, so trades will have to be considered.
The most obvious trade candidates on the Blazers’ roster are guys like Crabbe and Turner, whose 2017/18 salaries total more than $36MM combined. But coming off mediocre seasons, those players aren’t exactly hot commodities right now, and their long-term contracts would be viewed as a burden by most teams. Players in the $7-10MM range like Harkless, Leonard, and Al-Farouq Aminu would likely be more movable, but won’t exactly inspire bidding wars either.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Blazers won’t be able to take on much salary in return in any hypothetical deal, assuming their goal is to cut costs. That would rule out many over-the-cap teams as trade partners, and after last summer’s league-wide spending spree, there aren’t nearly as many teams this summer projected to remain under the cap as their were in 2016.
Of course, the two most expensive players on the Blazers’ roster are also two of the players with the most trade value. That leads us to our second question…
Crabbe needs to have a stress reaction of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot repaired. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, the release adds.
Crabbe is one of the premier sixth men in the league — and one of the more expensive reserves on any team’s roster. In 79 games this past season which includes seven starts, Crabbe averaged 10.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG and 1.2 APG. His shooting was highly efficient — 48.8% overall and 44.4% from long range.
No timetable was offered by the club for Crabbe’s recovery, though he obviously has nearly five months to get back by training camp. A league source told ESPN’s Chris B. Haynes that Crabbe is expected to be ready by the start of the season (Twitter link).
The Blazers made a huge investment in Crabbe when they matched the Nets’ four-year, $75MM offer sheet last summer after he hit the market as a restricted free agent. He’s due to make $19.33MM next season and $18.5MM in 2018/19. The final year of the deal, in which he’s also scheduled to receive $18.5MM, includes a player option.
Crabbe’s injury situation could make it even more difficult for a team heavily invested in its current roster to make moves this season.
- If Damian Lillard can’t win a title with the Trail Blazers, he’s okay not winning one. The guard tweeted that staying in Portland is more of a priority.
- One of the looming questions the Trail Blazers will get an answer to eventually is whether or not Jusuf Nurkic can be their anchor in the middle for a full season, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post writes. If he can, that’s one less building block they’ll need to add in the future.
The Timberwolves have finalized the purchase of the Iowa Energy, a D-League franchise, the team announced today (Twitter link). The Energy previously had a partnership with the Grizzlies, but we learned back in January that the Wolves would be taking over control of the Des Moines-based club going forward.
In the wake of today’s announcement, it makes sense to take stock of where things stand in regard to NBA teams and their D-League affiliates. In 2016/17, 22 NBA clubs had one-on-one relationships with D-League teams, leaving eight NBA franchises without their own affiliates. However, changes are in store for the 2017/18 season, as the Development League becomes known as the Gatorade League.
Here are the changes expected for the 2017/18 G-League season, including updates on all the teams without affiliates:
- Atlanta Hawks: Will take over the Erie BayHawks, with an affiliate of their own in College Park, Georgia lined up for the 2019/20 season. Previously unaffiliated.
- Denver Nuggets: No concrete plans reported.
- Los Angeles Clippers: Hoping to operate new affiliate in 2017/18.
- Memphis Grizzlies: Will own and operate a new affiliate in Southaven, Mississippi. Previously affiliated with the Iowa Energy.
- Milwaukee Bucks: Will own and operate a new affiliate in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Previously unaffiliated.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Will take over the Iowa Energy. Previously unaffiliated.
- New Orleans Pelicans: No affiliation for 2017/18. Intend to own and operate a new affiliate for the 2018/19 season. Search reportedly narrowed to six cities.
- Orlando Magic: Will own and operate a new affiliate in Lakeland, Florida. Previously affiliated with the Erie BayHawks.
- Portland Trail Blazers: No concrete plans reported.
- Washington Wizards: No concrete plans reported.
- While it’s already been announced that the Trail Blazers won’t be bringing Festus Ezeli back next season, the big man officially said farewell to Portland over Twitter.
- In a candid exit interview, backup Trail Blazers point guard Shabazz Napier said that while he understands coming off the bench and has bought into the team’s process he isn’t necessarily comfortable with it. Sean Meagher of the Oregonian broke down the guard’s comments about the organization.
Earlier tonight, we shared Nuggets GM Tim Connelly’s announcement that rookie guard Jamal Murray will have surgery tomorrow. Here are a few other highlights of Connelly’s radio interview with Altitude Sports 950, all tweeted by Chris Dempsey:
- Although Jusuf Nurkic blossomed into a key player in Portland, Connelly doesn’t regret the February deal that sent him to the Trail Blazers. Portland acquired Nurkic and a first-round pick this year in exchange for Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second-rounder. “We think Mason is going to be a huge piece of our core,” Connelly said.
- Re-signing free agent forward Danilo Gallinari will be the top off-season priority. Gallinari has been with the Nuggets since 2011 when he was acquired in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Connelly also hopes to reach a new deal with Plumlee, who will be a restricted free agent, and work out an extension for third-year guard Gary Harris.
- Another objective is to add a stronger defensive presence around breakout star Nikola Jokic.
- Connelly believed 39 wins would be enough to grab the West’s final playoff spot. The Nuggets finished 40-42, but Portland was a game better. Connelly insists he would have been more active at the trade deadline if he had known the team would miss the postseason.
- The organization is making progress in changing the league-wide perception about Denver as a place to play and live. Connelly said several lottery prospects in a recent draft were “begging” the Nuggets to select them because they wanted to be in the city.
- The team needs a “pecking order” in the locker room, with a strong veteran presence to guide younger players. “Maybe our biggest struggle since I’ve been here,” Connelly said, “is we haven’t had a pecking order.” He adds that the organization has also encountered problems with “role acceptance” among players.
After an unexpected second-round playoff run a year ago, the Trail Blazers underwhelmed in 2016/17, sneaking into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed and failing to win a single postseason game. The Blazers did unearth a gem when they acquired Jusuf Nurkic in a February trade, but the team’s cap situation will make it very difficult for the front office to make major upgrades to the roster this summer.
Here’s where things currently stand for the Trail Blazers financially, as we continue our Offseason Salary Cap Digest series for 2017:
- Damian Lillard ($26,153,057)
- C.J. McCollum ($23,962,573)
- Allen Crabbe ($19,332,500)
- Evan Turner ($17,131,148)
- Maurice Harkless ($10,162,922)
- Meyers Leonard ($9,904,495)
- Al-Farouq Aminu ($7,319,035)
- Ed Davis ($6,352,531)
- Noah Vonleh ($3,505,233)
- Jusuf Nurkic ($2,947,305)
- Shabazz Napier ($2,361,360)
- Anderson Varejao ($1,984,005) — Waived via stretch provision.
- Jake Layman ($1,312,611)
- Festus Ezeli ($1,000,000) — Partial guarantee. Non-guaranteed portion noted below.1
- Total: $133,428,775
- Festus Ezeli ($6,733,000) — Partial guarantee. Guaranteed portion noted above.1
- Pat Connaughton ($1,471,382)2
- Tim Quarterman ($1,312,611)
- Total: $9,516,993
Restricted Free Agents
- No. 15 overall pick ($2,365,560)
- No. 20 overall pick ($1,859,400)
- No. 26 overall pick ($1,465,920)
- Total: $5,690,880
Projected Salary Cap: $101,000,000
Maximum Cap Room: –$38,119,655
- Portland has an extraordinary amount of money tied up in guaranteed salaries for next season. If the Blazers were to waive all their players on non-guaranteed salaries, the club’s remaining salaries for 2017/18 – along with cap holds for first-round draft picks – would total $139,119,655, a figure that would be well above the tax line. Trades to clear some salary are possible, but the Blazers are a virtual lock to remain over the cap this offseason.
- Ezeli’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after June 30.
- Connaughton’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after July 25.