January 28, 2018, 10:47 pm
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.
May 29, 2020, 7:43 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.
Source: The Athletic
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:44 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.
The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.
Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:03 pmJulius RandlePF, New York Knicks
Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.
Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.
May 29, 2020, 3:46 pmJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.
That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.
Source: Celtics PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:40 pmRJ BarrettSF, New York Knicks
The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.
Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.
Source: Knicks PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:15 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
On a call with the Board of Governors on Friday, Adam Silver and the league office confirmed July 31 as a target date for the resumption of the NBA season, according to a report from Shams Charania.
We have to imagine that this is just one of the possible options on the table, as the league still has much to figure out. Charania adds that the league has four scenarios for the return: 16 teams move directly to the playoffs, 20 teams engage in group/stage play, 22 teams have games to determine seeding with a play-in tournament, and all 30 teams reconvene for a 72-game season with a play-in tournament. It's seemed unlikely that we'll have a full 30-team return given the stated priorities for player safety. There are still tons of logistical hurdles to clear but the NBA is getting its ducks in a row for a potential return.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 9:06 pmAndre IguodalaSF, Miami Heat
Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.
Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.
Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:52 pmZach LaVineSG, Chicago Bulls
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.
The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.
Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter
May 27, 2020, 7:08 pmLuka DoncicPG-SF, Dallas Mavericks
Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.
This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter