Over the past two weeks, the Portland Trail Blazers have used a slew of trades, signings and draft picks to rebuild their roster heading into the 2022-23 NBA season. If you haven’t paid close attention to it, you could be forgiven for missing some details. Even if you did, it’s time to take a deep breath, recap, and reset.
Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, we’ll be breaking down Portland’s moves so far this summer, looking at each in detail, bringing you up to date and revealing the importance of each trade.
In this article, we’ll look at an unsurprising move with interesting implications: the Blazers taking the team option on G/F Josh Hart’s contract.
The transaction: The Blazers have guaranteed Josh Hart’s $13 million contract for the 2022-23 season, making him a roster member for the coming year.
What it costs: $12.96 million in ceiling space. Hart’s contract was not guaranteed for the upcoming season until last week. The Blazers could have released him and not paid extra dollars.
NBA reaction: Those who noticed it, considered it prudent. It would have been bigger news had the Blazers released Hart, as he would have hit the free agent market.
Statistics : 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists in 33.2 minutes per game last season in 54 appearances with the Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. Hart shot 50.4% from the field, 34.3% from the arc.
Portland numbers: 19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists in 32.1 minutes, 50.3 percent from the field, 37.4 percent on three-pointers.
What Portland Won
Josh Hart is a Swiss-Army-Knife wing, with more tools at his disposal than any of the Blazers’ smaller fielders. He is a heady passer, a willing defender, a good rebounder for his size. To that he added 20 points per game scored in 13 appearances for Portland last year. He’s not going to sign up to All-Star levels in any of those departments, but he’s going to give them all to you, almost every night, at a more than acceptable level. Hart is the classic “glue player”.
Retaining Hart gives the Blazers considerable depth at the shooting guard, with an overlap at the small forward. He played both throughout his five-year NBA career. Portland now has a bench presence in the backcourt, a potential starter (or first reserve) at three.
Whatever the question, Hart is an acceptable answer. There’s no reason the Blazers don’t want him down. One could even argue that Hart is Portland’s best option to start shooting guard, given their projected rotation. They won’t go that way, but they might. That says something.
If the Blazers had let Hart go, they might have saved some money, but they wouldn’t have kept cap space. Subsequent re-signings of Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic put them over the line regardless. Since he’s already on the roster, Hart’s contract is a “free” against the cap, until such time as the Blazers cross the luxury tax threshold. Whether it’s a dollar over the cap or $13 million, it all ends up being the same unless there are tax penalties.
Under these circumstances, freeing Hart would have made no sense. With him on the roster, the Blazers have another contract slot and talent pool available for trade, at least until the contract is renewed next summer. At this point, it’s a player option. If things go well, he’s unlikely to be content to play the final year of this deal.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping Hart the wrong choice at this point. Even if they never planned to play him, the trade potential would argue to keep his contract at this price.
That said, it’s fair to wonder where Hart will fit into Portland’s revamped lineup and how happy he’ll likely be with the outcome.
Hart isn’t a natural starter at small forward, simply because he’s outplayed defensively most nights. A shooting guard would be a better option for him. But the Blazers planned for Simons to start in second place. Simons will eat for minutes and shots like a buffet. This will push Hart back into all three, where he will tangle with Nassir Little and the new Gary Payton II.
Position remains one of the big mysteries of Portland’s new look. What exactly will they want their small forwards to do? If he stands on the sidelines, shoots three times and defends well, Little and Payton fit that profile better than Hart. If that creates enough points to mask a relative lack of defense, where are the extra shots and touches coming from? Hart is a natural facilitator and should have the ball in his hands. That doesn’t seem likely in Portland’s current lineup.
We haven’t even mentioned Shaedon Sharpe and Keon Johnson pushing Hart from the bottom. Hart’s progression to the minutes feels less like an express flight than a maze.
Somehow, the Blazers have created a situation where the same player who could potentially be best suited for the position and style of play could also become the odd man out.
Unless injuries clear things up for them, the Blazers will have to resolve that ambiguity before the season gets too old. They can’t keep a player with Hart’s abilities on the pins. He also cannot afford to unduly limit his minutes, playing in a contract year.
Although they show every indication of keeping Hart for now, it will be a story to watch throughout the season. There is going to be considerable pressure to move him or the players around him. Either way, tension usually accompanies such decisions. If it’s the right kind that leads to increased competitiveness and chemistry, that’s fantastic. If not, it could become a blunder in the saddle for the start of the season.
The Blazers should have kept Hart and they kept Hart. Now it’s all about “Now what?” »
Some huge re-signatures.