• The Portland Trail Blazers’ summer 2016 spending spree backed them into a corner. Emboldened by a salary cap that jumped nearly quarter of a million dollars in a calendar year, Neil Olshey handed out lucrative, lengthy contracts to Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard and Evan Turner, confident similar spikes to come and further internal development would justify those seemingly exorbitant price tags.

    That’s proven hopelessly optimistic, of course, and not just because the salary cap’s massive one-year spike turned out to be an aberration. Harkless, Leonard and Turner have also been the Blazers’ three most disappointing players in the interim. The latter pair have fallen out of Terry Stotts’ rotation in 2017-18, while Turner, Portland’s only notable outside signee two summers ago, has become the embodiment of his team’s hard place between sustained mediocrity and limited means of upward mobility.

    It’s highly improbable the Blazers get out from under that rock by the February 8 trade deadline. They lack the assets necessary to bid for a stranded superstar, and the availability of players who fit that distinction mostly remains a mystery as January comes to an end. What theoretical trade could suddenly make Portland a semi-viable threat to the Golden State Warriors anyway? This team’s chief need, size and shooting on the wing, is one shared by well over half the league. As much as Blazers fans are frustrated to hear it, any move made by Olshey at the deadline is likely to be more about cutting costs than winning games.

    Portland has approximately $122 million in committed salary this season, $3 million more than the luxury tax threshold. Getting below it is key considering money on the Blazers’ books going forward, but will also be more difficult to do than ever given the rarity of cap space across the league landscape. Portland wasn’t the only team to misjudge the NBA’s financial future in 2016. Only the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers currently possess meaningful space below the cap, and more than a third of the league’s 30 teams are already over or within several million dollars of the luxury-tax line.

    Shedding salary, even the small amount that would push the Blazers below the tax, is no longer so easy as attaching a second-round sweetener. Teams are loathe to forfeit the chance to acquire a player on his rookie deal, even when the likelihood he’s out of the league shortly thereafter outweighs the possibility he emerges as a contributor. Imagine where Portland would be this season if it had traded away the 41st overall pick in 2015, one that eventually became Pat Connaughton, in a move to net future savings.

    Worthwhile second-round picks still come with the price of restricted free agency, though, and so do former lottery picks who fail to live up to expectations. What has Noah Vonleh shown that would entice a team to take on his $3.5 million salary this season, just for the obligation to pay him more this summer? Shabazz Napier could provide a jolt for any team in need of playmaking off the bench, but makes slightly less money in 2017-18 than what separates the Blazers from non-tax territory, and has become an integral two-way cog off the bench – both subbing for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and in three-guard lineups playing alongside them.

    It’s no secret that Portland would prefer to trade Harkless, Leonard or Turner to dip below the tax this season and avoid the specter of repeater penalties a year from now. Not counting cap holds for restricted free agents or forthcoming draft picks, the Blazers have roughly $108 million in guaranteed money on the books for 2018-19, comfortably over the projected salary cap. Without moving one of those guys, they can’t duck the tax next season barring the type of unlikely move – trading McCollum before the deadline, letting Jusuf Nurkic walk this summer – that would propel them semi-contention or initiate an on-the-fly rebuild. One problem: Portland definitely won’t be able to deal Harkless, Leonard or Turner without taking back salary or including a draft pick, both of which would further limit Olshey’s options to improve a roster that’s already playing near its peak at 26-22.

    That depressing reality leaves room for another trade candidate, Ed Davis. If all things were equal from a financial perspective, he wouldn’t even be on the block. Davis has come back from an injury-riddled 2016-17 to play the best basketball of his career this season, reestablishing himself as one of the league’s best offensive rebounders while showing increased comfort making plays with the ball in his hands. His team-high +6.6 net rating, per NBA.com/stats, has been fully earned.

    But Davis’ ongoing success also makes him a more attractive commodity on the trade market, especially because he’s the rare veteran playing on an expiring contract. Any team in need of frontcourt depth should be calling Olshey every day between now and Feb. 8, asking how eager the Blazers are to get below the tax and free up an interior log jam by moving Davis. Only so many decision-makers have the financial flexibility to accommodate a $6.4 million salary while sending little to no money back, though, and just one of them, Indiana’s Kevin Pritchard, leads a team with playoff aspirations. General managers or presidents of basketball operations who possess that freedom will be extra choosey at this year’s deadline, waiting for the team most desperate to shirk the luxury tax by attaching a pick to the player in question.

    Point being, there’s no obvious answer for Portland here. One summer of overspending continues to haunt the Blazers, and will likely force them to shed salary by attaching a sweetener – the Los Angeles Lakers’ second-rounder in 2019, the Miami Heat’s in 2021 or straight cash considerations – to Vonleh, or perhaps even Davis.

    Portland is still feeling the ill effects of trading Allen Crabbe to the Brooklyn Nets for nothing in July. Doing so again with another incumbent before the deadline is a tough pill to swallow, but also the surest means of at all minimizing the ongoing effects of 2016 next season.

Fantasy News

  • Romeo Langford
    SG, Boston Celtics

    Romeo Langford (illness) is probable for Monday's game.

    Langford has only seen action in three games this season but may come into minutes with Gordon Hayward out. He's someone to monitor in 20-team leagues and is already on the dynasty radar.

    Source: NBA Injury Report

  • Jeremy Lamb
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Jeremy Lamb (sprained left ankle) was not able to practice on Monday.

    Lamb has been out for about a week now with no real signs of progress reported publicly. Aaron Holiday will continue to start, with minutes also opening up for TJ McConnell, Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott. There's no great pickup here in standard formats, but McConnell is the option for dimes, McDermott has the best scoring upside, Justin Holiday is the best bet for steals and threes, while Aaron offers the most balance as the player who is likely to chip in across the board.

    Source: Nathan Brown on Twitter

  • Myles Turner
    C, Indiana Pacers

    Myles Turner (right ankle sprain) went through drills in Monday's practice but didn't "go live."

    It means that Turner didn't complete a full practice and skipped the full-contact stuff, but he may still be able to play tomorrow if he responds well to today's work. A return looks to be coming soon, which will bump JaKarr Sampson from the starting five.

    Source: Nathan Brown on Twitter

  • Goga Bitadze
    C, Indiana Pacers

    Goga Bitadze (concussion) was unable to practice on Monday.

    It's safe to rule Bitadze out of Indiana's next game, and there's no timetable for his return. While it'd be great to hold onto the talented rookie so we can see what his minutes look like when Myles Turner is also healthy, he's getting harder to hang onto if you don't have an open IR spot.

    Source: Nathan Brown on Twitter

  • Draymond Green
    PF, Golden State Warriors

    Draymond Green (sprained left index finger) says he'll play on Monday against the Jazz.

    Green missed all of last week with the injury but is returning relatively quickly considering initial reports had him potentially missing more time than that. Get him back into all lineups as one of the few bankable players left on the Warriors. It'll be interesting to see how his return affects Eric Paschall.

    Source: Nick Friedell on Twitter

  • Otto Porter Jr.
    SF, Chicago Bulls

    Otto Porter (left foot sprain) will not play on Tuesday.

    Porter was last spotted using crutches to get around and the fact that he's being ruled out a day ahead of time doesn't bode well for a speedy return. He remains worth holding onto in all formats, despite his slow start to the year. Chandler Hutchison will continue to start in his absence.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter

  • Lauri Markkanen
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    Lauri Markkanen (sore oblique) sat out Monday's practice but will be good to go on Tuesday against the Knicks.

    Markkanen dealt with a vague "side" injury earlier in the year but didn't miss any time, so it sounds like something he'll just have to manage. Keep him in your lineups, as always.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter

  • Derrick Jones Jr.
    SF, Miami Heat

    Derrick Jones Jr. (hip) will remain sidelined on Tuesday.

    Jones sat out Friday's game with a groin strain and had just returned from an absence the day prior, so we're guessing the diagnosis is moving over from groin to hip. He's a deep-league play with standard-league upside, though the injuries have really put him behind the eight ball so far.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Kelly Olynyk
    C, Miami Heat

    Kelly Olynyk (knee) is questionable to play on Tuesday against the Pistons.

    There aren't any more specifics out there at the moment but it's concerning since a left knee injury kept Olynyk out for much of the offseason. The big man is sitting around top-180 value right now and should be able to climb his way into the top-125 over time, but he's not currently a must-own player.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Justise Winslow
    SF, Miami Heat

    Justise Winslow (concussion) will miss Tuesday's game.

    Winslow has been in concussion protocol since last week and there's no timetable for his return. As a late-round player when all the stars align, Winslow can be dropped in most 12-team formats — he's outside the top-200 in 9-cat leagues and is only a top-145 guy in 8-cat.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter