The 2023 NBA trade deadline is just three weeks away, and the Portland Trail Blazers don’t appear to be moving to the promised land with their currently constructed roster. This confluence would typically make Portland a hot topic among her peers. No, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. In an article for ESPN Insider [subscription required], Marks has shut down the trading probability for all 30 NBA franchises. He ranks Portland dead in the middle, a 5 out of 10 on the trade probability scale.
Marks points to Jerami Grant’s likely contract extension and luxury tax line as key factors in Portland’s willingness to make moves. He cites Grant’s comments to the Portland media about liking the city and the franchise, then continues:
A new contract, either with an extension or through free agency this summer, will likely push Portland into the luxury tax in 2023-24.
Speaking of tax, does the front office have the green light to go into tax if there’s a trade that improves a bank that’s last in points per game?
Portland is $67,482 below the threshold and would lose $17 million in tax payouts if it exceeded it.
As we’ve discussed repeatedly here, exceeding the tax this year would be a tough sell. The team is hovering around the 500 mark at mid-season. Betting on a dramatic improvement through a costly mid-year takeover would require either overwhelming evidence or a disbelief on the part of the owners. It wouldn’t be impossible, but… unusually generous?
As Marks hints, the team will be crossing the tax line next season. Harnessing the good fortune of not exceeding it this year would help offset those costs. It would also prevent the clock from starting labeled Repeater Tax, a harsh penalty for teams exceeding the tax limit 3 out of 4 years. Not only will Portland be taxed in 2023-24, 2024-25, and the years that follow won’t look much better as long as Damian Lillard’s mammoth contract is on the books. It runs for the next four seasons. Starting the rep count this season could have dire consequences later.
For all of these reasons, Portland’s trading opportunities will likely be limited to exchanging equal or lesser contracts.
Due to his player option at the end of the year, forward Josh Hart is also a hot trade. Marks suggests Hart for Indiana Pacers point guard TJ McConnell as a trade he would like to see. McConnell is averaging 6.6 points and 4.6 assists in 17.9 minutes per game for the Pacers this season. His contract runs through 2024-25 and averages about $8.7 million a year. Marks proposes former Oregon product Chris Duarte as second in the deal. The 24-year-old small forward is averaging 6.9 points on 33.1% shots on target from the field in 17.5 minutes per game this season.