As previously discussed, there’s a chance that the Portland Trail Blazers enter next season with the same core, aside from the marginal signings they may make in free agency.
If it’s true that General Manager Neil Olshey intends to run it back without making any major trades, Portland will be hard-capped heading into free agency. That leaves the team with only veteran minimum contracts and their mid-level exception to try to acquire some talent for next season.
The mid-level exception is a powerful tool for capped-out contenders to use to add an impactful veteran to their roster. Since the Trail Blazers are a luxury-tax team, meaning they pay extra in fees for being over the salary cap, their MLE will be worth about $5.3 million. This is a great asset that the Blazers can use to add a meaningful contributor for next year’s title chase.
Honorable Mention: The Trail Blazers could bring back a veteran in free agency
With their MLE, the Trail Blazers could bring back a familiar face in Nicolas Batum. Batum was one of the winners of the 2016 cap explosion, signing a 5-year/$120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets that summer that eventually had to be bought out.
Maybe it was the lack of talent and cohesion in Charlotte, or maybe it was the crushing weight of the enormous bag he had just secured, but Nic Batum’s versatile play, efficiency, and defensive effort quickly faded after he touched down in Carolina.
After being bought out in the middle of the 2019-2020 season, Batum signed a “prove-it” deal with the Los Angeles Clippers last summer worth just north of $2.5 million, according to Spotrac.
With LA, Nic has rediscovered his talent, averaging 8.1 points, 2.2 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game, featuring as one of the Clippers most important reserves. He’s also redefined himself as a reliable wing defender. Most importantly, this year he had his best shooting season since 2013-2014, hitting 46 percent of his shots from the floor and 40 percent from deep.
Nic Batum has more than proved that he’s still a viable NBA professional and has earned the chance to come home on a nice veteran contract.
Here are the top 3 mercenaries that the Portland Trail Blazers should target in free agency with their MLE: