Jusuf Nurkic is a restricted free agency this summer, but the Portland Trail Blazers will have a difficult time re-signing him with so little cap space.
Between eleven players, only eight of which are on the roster, the Portland Trail Blazers have about $9.5 million to spend before surpassing the luxury tax line.
The Blazers generally strike out in free agency, so it will likely spend its limited available money on the four free agents from last year’s roster. But $9.5 million isn’t enough to bring back Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Ed Davis and Jusuf Nurkic. In fact, it’s probably not enough to sign more than one of them.
Napier is as good as gone. Paying someone $5 million or more to back up Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a staggered lineup is pointless. Also, Wade Baldwin IV proved he could provide defensive support at the guard position off the bench.
Portland could re-sign both Connaughton and Davis if they are willing to take slight pay cuts. Retaining Davis is key to Zach Collins’ development, but Connaughton can be replaced in the draft with a sizable three-point shooting guard.
Nurkic insists on getting paid “what he’s worth.” While he didn’t play well enough for a max contract, chances are the big man wants more than $9.5 million per year.
No. 24 Pick
In many mock drafts, both are gone by pick No. 24, leaving Portland to select a defensive guard. Team management knows this, which is why they are working out primarily guards prior to the draft.
More can be done with the pick than another backup guard, though. This year’s draft holds a strong pool of prospects, so the Blazers can possibly use it to salary dump.
After two expensive offseasons, very few teams have significant cap space. Those teams are tanking and want to save that available money. This works out well for Portland, who can package its pick with one of the roster’s bigger contracts to free cap space.
For example, the Sacramento Kings have room for at least one max contract, if not two, before hitting the luxury tax threshold. Sacramento also only has one first round draft pick in 2018 at No. 2. It can take advantage of this draft by adding another pick, say Portland’s at No. 24.
In the trade, the Blazers might include Evan Turner, a two-year rental for the Kings to provide a veteran presence for the up-and-coming guards on their roster.
Losing Turner’s contract frees up $17.8 million on top of the $9.5 million already available. With that money, Portland can re-sign Nurkic, along with Davis and maybe even Connaughton.
Without moving the players with big contracts, the Blazers likely won’t re-sign Jusuf Nurkic. To move these contracts, pick No. 24 must be a part of the package.
Losing the draft pick for nothing in return stinks.
But instead of adding an untested reserve guard, Portland can re-sign Davis, Nurkic and Connaughton to maintain the team chemistry. From there, it’s up to team management to make a big trade elsewhere to make the Blazers a threat in the West.