A Trail Blazers trade that would bring a superstar to Portland and improve the team’s (maybe more importantly, Damian Lillard’s) chances at competing for an NBA championship appears to be the play for general manager Joe Cronin this summer.
Whether that’s a two-way wing like Boston’s Jaylen Brown or a proven, title-winning second banana like Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, the Blazers’ offseason has so far been overrun with the idea of acquiring a player who would significantly move the competitive needle.
But there’s an often-neglected potential issue with the entire idea: money.
A major Blazers trade would carry significant financial risk
A move for Brown or Siakam would run the risk of possibly being a one-year rental for Portland.
Lillard is on the books for $45.6 million next season and $48.8 million in 2024-25. If the Blazers make any type of win-now trade, they’ll likely bring back Jerami Grant as a critical piece. Grant is an unrestricted free agent, and although he’s expected to re-sign with Portland, it could come at a cost of around $30 million per year.
Jusuf Nurkic is set to make $16.9 million next season and $18.1 million in 2024-25.
Those three alone will combine for about $93 million next year (69 percent of the $134 million salary cap) and about $97 million (69 percent of a make-believe $140 million salary cap) in 2024-25.
If Simons is included in a trade for Brown or Siakam, it would take $24 million off the books next year and $26 million off in 24-25. However, Brown’s cap hit next season is about $32 million – $8 million more than Simons’ – while Siakam’s contract carries a cap hit of about $38 million next year.
To make things even more difficult, both Brown and Siakam are unrestricted free agents after next season. Both would be eligible to sign a max deal prior to 2024-25, and it would make more financial sense for the Blazers to immediately extend their newest star upon arrival, before they reach free agency.
A deal involving Simons as the lone player leaving Portland with Brown or Siakam coming back would add at least $7.7 million to next year’s cap. With a contract extension included, a quartet of Lillard, Brown/Siakam, Grant, and Nurkic would make a combined $136 million and put the Blazers $2 million over the cap with just four players.
As a franchise that has historically refused to go into the luxury tax – which is set at $162 million for next season – that would leave Portland with $26 million to fill out the rest of its roster.
All those numbers would only go up in 2024-25.
Also at play is the fact that it would make more financial sense for Brown and Siakam to play one season in Portland and hit the free agent market as unrestricted FAs in ’24-25, as they could sign longer deals worth more money in that scenario.
That would create an even more dire cap situation for the Blazers two seasons from now, especially considering Portland would have given up hugely valuable assets to acquire either star, which would make letting them walk after one year incredibly damaging to the franchise’s future.
Could Cronin play cap gymnastics and find a way to make this work? Probably; teams always seem to find a way. Could majority owner Jody Allen decide to dip into the luxury tax to field a team that could possibly contend for an NBA championship? Maybe, but it’s unlikely.
Trading for stars like Brown or Siakam would cost more than just valuable assets. It would make roster building exceedingly difficult due to the financial constrictions Portland would face, and the franchise would run the risk of mortgaging the future for only one season of possible contention.
It would put a band-aid on a bullet wound, so to speak; it could stop the bleeding temporarily, but the bullet hole would still be there, ready to start bleeding again soon.