The Utah Jazz (34-22) host the Portland Trail Blazers (23-32) tonight in the final game before the All-Star break. Looking at the opposition tonight, the Jazz brass would do well to remember the situation the Blazers find themselves in this season and do everything they can to avoid it. Namely, last summer Portland decided to push all their chips onto the table with a mediocre hand after being intoxicated with the slightest whiff of success.
The Blazers finished the 2015-16 season at 44-38, good for the 5th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Due to injuries to the Los Angeles Clippers stars, they were able to win a first round matchup 4-2 before being taken care of by the Warriors in 5 games. The way the season ended convinced Portland that they had a group worth pushing the salary cap for, but closer inspection raises some red flags.
Portland made some pretty good hay in the weakest part of their schedule last season. After starting 14-21, they used an 18-7 stretch through the months of January and February to pad their record. It took them from seven games under .500 to four games over. However, in those two months six of their seven losses were to eventual playoff teams. They went 11-1 against teams that finished at or under .500. On the season as a whole, Portland was 15-27 against last season’s playoff teams. Granted, having a team that can pad their record against non-playoff squads can get you to the postseason, but is it worth pushing up against the tax for?
Putting themselves in cap prison
Here’s the money that the Trail Blazers committed to paying out last summer:
- C.J. McCollum- Signed $106 million extension
- Festus Ezeli- Signed 2-yr/$15 million deal
- Maurice Harkless- Signed 4-yr/$40 million deal
- Meyers Leonard- Signed 4-yr/$41 million deal
- Evan Turner- Signed 4-yr/$70 million deal
- Allen Crabbe- Matched 4-yr/$75 million offer sheet
All of this resulted in a team that is currently nine games under .500, plays no defense, and is on schedule to pay over $140 million in salary next season. The luxury tax line for next season is projected at $122 million. This is a problem.
My point is the Jazz need to be careful with their cap management in the coming years. With Gordon Hayward, George Hill and Joe Ingles being important players to this team all going into free agency this summer, Utah can keep them all, but it would be costly. As much as I hate to say it, Ingles may be our Allen Crabbe. Will Ingles get a $75 million offer sheet? Probably not, but you never know with the NBA. After they maneuver that, they have Favors to worry about next summer, among other things. To be clear, I do think the current Jazz roster is better than what the Blazers are fielding. However, this group has yet to really put together an admirable resume against playoff teams. The last thing we want to do is cap ourselves out with a team that’s not good enough to truly contend.
But these are all storylines to follow in coming months or years. For now, we’ve got a game to win to get this sour taste out of our mouths before the break.