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The Trail Blazers’ Messy Cap Situation Can Be Fixed Only by a Salary Dump

Plus: other rumors from around the NBA

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Remember that line about selling the car to afford gas? That’s the Trail Blazers right now, stuck on empty with three months of backed-up payments. Portland’s cap is so overcommitted to middle-of-the-road contracts that just signing all three of the organization’s first-round draft picks this June would cost the Blazers an additional $10 million in taxes from rookie (rookie!) contracts.

Portland got here by throwing money around like Iverson in a TGI Friday’s: C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, and Festus Ezeli all signed new contracts last summer. McCollum, 2015–16’s Most Improved Player, continued to rise this season in all shooting percentages, points, and boards, so let’s call that money well spent. Even without counting his contract, the Blazers swore away about $242 million over the next four years. For the coming 2017–18 season, that’s about $123 million guaranteed.

The combination of being an estimated $12 million already over next season’s cap and owning the 15th, 20th, and 26th picks leaves the Blazers with some trading to do. ESPN reported that the Knicks could be interested in a swap. As it stands right now, New York owns the eighth selection in the draft, seems committed to building around Kristaps Porzingis, and wants out with the Melo and in with the new. But trading down would probably come as a package deal, or, as ESPN reported, "at least one scenario discussed involved an additional player from Portland being sent in a trade."

Harkless’s name was thrown around in reports as that additional player, meaning that New York would take his $10 million a year off Portland’s plate. From the Blazers’ standpoint, shedding salary like that is the main benefit of this rumored trade. But the Knicks’ incentive to take on Harkless is much less straightforward. Does acquiring an unexceptional small forward, all the while attempting to push out Carmelo Anthony, line up with Phil Jackson’s plan? Or, the larger question: Is there a plan here?

Sporting News reported that the Nets might also be game, which should be expected for most trades and free-agency talks this summer. Brooklyn is in an alternate universe from the Blazers’, without draft leverage, without contract commitments, and without stars to consider paying.

The Nets did make an offer to Crabbe when he was a restricted agent last summer and are partly responsible for the large sum Portland doled out to keep him. Dealing Crabbe might be more difficult, though, as the 15 percent trade kicker in his contract is added to his already unappealing, annual $18.7 million — but if it makes sense for any team to overpay a 25-year-old role player in the hopes he flourishes, it’s the Nets.

Some Other Rumors for Your Weekend

The Vertical reported that Milwaukee has contacted Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon in its search for a new general manager. The hire seems unlikely, as lots of other names with front-office experience were thrown in the mix, and Hammon — though she worked under Gregg Popovich for three seasons — has none. Hammon is the closest the league’s ever gotten to a female head coach, save Nancy Lieberman, but becoming the first female GM would be one hell of a promotion, too.

Amir Johnson loved his time in Toronto, or so he tweeted in 2015, and there’s now reported mutual interest to get the Celtics forward back north. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and though the Raptors are first focused on retaining Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, Amir could likely head back to O Canada if that’s settled.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that Chris Paul will give "serious consideration" to the Spurs this summer, which, after years of unsuccessful postseasons, is what one does with a player option. I’m sure Danilo Gallinari is giving "serious consideration" to the Warriors with his player option, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Aron Baynes was giving "serious consideration" to the Cavs, as well. The real question is, can the Spurs seriously consider moving around any cap space to make it happen?