Portland Trail Blazers: A 2020/21 Salary cap update

The Portland Trail Blazers have an interesting salary cap situation moving into the 2021 season. Here’s a summary of where they are at.

The Portland Trail Blazers currently have around $100 million in salary committed in the 2021 season. With the cap expected to stay the same as the 2020 season at $109 million, they will likely be operating as an over the cap team.

This number of $100 million includes the player options of both Mario Hezonja and Rodney Hood, which are both expected to be picked up. But, this number doesn’t include Trevor Ariza‘s full guarantee of $12.8 million.

I expect the Blazers to fully guarantee Ariza’s deal though, as they have no way of replacing Ariza if they don’t. Because of the way cap holds work, Hassan Whiteside‘s cap hold number means that they will have no cap space. So even if they did let Ariza walk, they would have to let Whiteside walk too. A cap hold is a number that sits on the books for a free agent on the team he played for previously.

Even if they did do this, they would only end up with just $10 million in cap space, and they would lose their midlevel exception. That would mean that the Blazers would have just $10 million to get a starting small forward and a backup center.

By keeping Ariza and Whiteside though, they would keep their midlevel exception of around $10 million a year, but they wouldn’t need to spend any of it to keep these two. Because they have the guarantee on Ariza, and then bird rights on Whiteside, they can use the $10 million on a free agent.

Bird rights are where a team can go over the cap to re-sign a player who has either spent three years or more with them, or who has been traded to that team on a deal that is three years in length.

It’s important to note that any players that the Blazers sign on the minimum will not count against their mid-level exception. Minimum players can be signed using the veteran’s minimum exception.

I’m confident that Mario Hezonja and Rodney Hood will both opt into their player options. Hood, because of his injury, and Hezonja because he won’t have a market in free agency after such a poor season.

The other players left that are free agents are Caleb Swanigan, who is unlikely to return; if he did, it would undoubtedly be at the minimum. Wenyen Gabriel, I think he is a good chance to return – this is likely to be a minimum deal as well.

That just leaves Hassan Whiteside. I’m unsure of his market; this is probably the real unknown of the Blazers off-season. If he has some other teams interested, I don’t think the Blazers will outbid them for his services. I also don’t think they should. They can get a backup center on the minimum or a half-decent one for around $3 – 4 million.

I would let Whiteside walk for any more than $9 million. Paying a backup center $10 million would be madness. Nurkic will play most of the center minutes next year.

The mid-level exception of $10 million should give the Blazers enough money to bring in a decent forward though. The market isn’t full of these options, but there are a few who will be between the $4 and $8 million a year range.

The Whiteside and Ariza decisions will likely decide how the free agency period pans out.