How the updated salary cap will affect the Portland Trail Blazers

Neil Olshey Terry Stotts Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Neil Olshey Terry Stotts Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With the projected salary cap dropping next year, the Portland Trail Blazers will have to get savvy with their cap space to keep the whole squad together.

Unfortunately, next year’s window of opportunity just got a little bit smaller. While the Portland Trail Blazers have been counting on big money coming off the books for the summer of 2020, the NBA has recently scaled back the total cap space available to each team next offseason. This move was made in effort to prevent a situation like the cap spike back in 2016 where many teams strung out their future by offering bloated contracts to average players.

This decision should in theory help maintain the competitive balance that we are finally starting to see after nearly a decade of little to no parity in the NBA. It will no longer be easy to immediately assume which two teams will be left standing at the end of the year. Instead, nearly a dozen contenders have genuine championship aspirations heading into next season.

Shams Charania of the Athletic was the first to break this news.

The Portland Trail Blazers currently have the league’s highest payroll at $145.6 million dollars, and although that figure could change at the trade deadline in February, it still makes planning out the future a much more complicated task. Here’s what the Blazers’ roster composition will look like heading into the 2020-21 season, barring any major trades:

  • Damian Lillard: $31,626,953
  • CJ McCollum: $29,354,152
  • Jusuf Nurkic: $12,000,000
  • Zach Collins: $5,406,255
  • Anfernee Simons: $2,252,040
  • Nassir Little: $2,210,640
  • Gary Trent Jr: $1,663,861
  • 2020 draft pick: TBD

The Blazers also owe a combined $4.76 million to Anderson Varejao and Andrew Nicholson through 2021. That brings Portland’s total guaranteed payroll to approximately $92 million (including their 2020 first-round draft pick). But Rodney Hood and Mario Hezonja also have player options they could potentially exercise, bringing the maximum possible payroll to $100 million.

Assuming Portland opts to bring neither one of Hassan Whiteside or Kent Bazemore back (although they have both players’ bird rights, their $70 million in cap holds make holding onto the pair unlikely) they would have anywhere from $16 to $24 million to work with in free agency, depending on the status of Hood and Hezonja’s decisions regarding their player options. With their Mid-Level Exception still on the table, the Portland Trail Blazers could put together a very good team around their stars.

Considering Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have their huge extensions set to kick in during the 2021-22 season, next offseason will be their last opportunity to haul in major talent without resorting to the trade market. For that reason, it is critical Neil Olshey makes the right moves and puts the Portland Trail Blazers in a legitimate position to win a championship.

With their newfound flexibility, the Blazers could pursue many valuable targets in their pay range. Portland could their wing strength by signing players like Otto Porter or Danilo Gallinari. Or perhaps they might pursue lethal sharpshooters such as Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. They could even go the route of improving the frontcourt rotation by picking up players like Domantas Sabonis or Montrezl Harrell.

Point is, next summer could prove to be a much more productive experience than it was this time around. Breaking free of the financial restraints that have chained them down since 2016 may help the Portland Trail Blazers finally take the next step to championship contention.

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But the clock is ticking. There are two years left until Dame and CJ secure their enormous paydays. If the Blazers haven’t collected the pieces necessary to win it all by then, their window will slam close for this current conglomeration of players.