New Nurk and a new weapon

New Nurk and a new weapon

The preseason is a time for young players to experience the game at the next level, for veterans to get back in the groove, and for fouls, turnovers, and sloppy play, right?

Yes, the Trail Blazers had some unforced errors and looked out of sync on offensive at times on Sunday night vs. the Jazz, but a Trail Blazer player who was looking like he is already in a groove on both ends is Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic.

For Nurkic, the question mark surrounding his game is consistency. 

Another question to add to the Nurkic book of questions is: Was that a good 3-point shooting night?

Get ready Rip City, it looks like you are about to have a new type of Nurk Fever.

The new diagnosis: The Bosnian Beast is ready to shoot the long ball.

Nurk has the green light

Over the last couple weeks, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has harped that he is looking for his team to get assist totals up and take more open looks from deep. 

“We need to be more efficient, I’d like to shoot more threes,” Stotts said about his team.

But what’s different about last season to this season for Nurkic? Did Nurk not have the go ahead last season? Not necessarily.

“I didn’t tell him not to shoot them. I knew that at some point in his career he would because he’s a good enough shooter. He’s got a good stroke, it’s about getting comfortable with it… Now it’s just a question of him gaining that confidence and rhythm in games,” Stotts said.

But it comes down to one simple rule on whether or not Nurk should take the three:

“As long as they’re open,” Stotts said with a smile.

Against the Jazz, Nurkic went 2-of-2 from three and finished with 20 points on a very efficient 8-of-9 shooting from the floor.

A good three is way better than a long two

Last season, the Blazers averaged 32.2 three attempts per game. Against Utah on Sunday, Portland had the most three-pointers attempts in the preseason with 32.  

Damian Lillard was dialed in from deep, hitting 4-of-5. The Blazers trusted three-point veteran is happy to see Nurk shoot a three this preseason compared to what he was doing last year:

“I think it’s better than him shooting those long twos that he usually shoots. We know that he’s capable of shooting from that range. We just want him to shoot the good ones. With our movement, if we screen like we need to and move off the ball like we need to, I think we’ll cause bigs to want to move close to the paint and help and he’ll get better looks.”

Meyers Leonard echoed those same sentiments.

“Nurk took quite a few fairly average mid-range to long mid-range shots last year and he has the touch to be able to take another step back,” Leonard said.

Leonard has been working closely with Nurkic in practice and might be the one Blazer who has seen Nurk’s shooting stroke the most.

“Before and after practice, it’s pretty normal for Nurk and I to be at the same rim, working with us two, Zach and Biggie, getting extra shots up, working on post moves and things of that nature, but we also get threes up,” Leonard said.

Don’t get it twisted though, Nurkic isn’t going to be jacking up threes left and right or at least he better not, if you ask his teammates.

“Obviously, we don’t want him out there just chucking up threes, but it’s a good shot if he can get them as open as he was tonight,” Lillard said.

For CJ McCollum to bless the three-ball from Nurkic, there better be some ball movement first.

“When they’re open and he has time, I don’t mind it, if it’s the first pass I don’t like it,” McCollum said.

Don’t expect an all-new Nurkic

Nurkic not only was perfect from three, but he also took care of business on the defensive end, finishing with five blocks and one steal.

“I think he’s locked in,” McCollum said.

There seems to be a different feeling towards Nurkic, even he thinks so.

“I feel like when I came back, the coach and organization has confidence in me,” Nurkic said.

The Bosnian Beast is not completely changing his game and he wants everyone to realize that.

“I know what I can do… If I’m open I’m gonna shoot. I’m gonna still be at the rim and play defense as best I can… I’m gonna shoot some threes, but I’m not gonna take away what I do. Sometimes I’m gonna shoot 10… It just depends if I’m open like tonight, but I’m not going to force it,” Nurkic said.

Remember how the preseason is still figuring out what you have to work on or fix?  Nurk knows that he has to take better care of the ball.

“I think I had six turnovers in the first half, which is too much,” Nurkic said.

More often than not people are their worst critics, tonight Nurk was hard on himself with the turnovers — he actually finished with four, but hey, we can let him think he had six. Preseason is all about getting better and now it’s about getting more comfortable with more three-point buckets for Nurkic.

Welcome to New Nurk. 

Instant Analysis: Damian Lillard drops 61 in Blazers OT win over Warriors

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Instant Analysis: Damian Lillard drops 61 in Blazers OT win over Warriors

Monday night was a battle of two undermanned teams.  

Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum sat out of his second straight game with a left ankle sprain, while on the other end, the Warriors were without starting forward Draymond Green. Green suited up for Golden State, but did not play due to an illness.

Portland outscored the Warriors, 27-23, in the first quarter, but then struggled to muster up enough scoring in the second and third quarters. The Blazers were able to win the final period behind Damian Lillard's scoring prowress. Twelve was the Warriors' biggest lead on the night, but once Portland forced overtime the Blazers were determined to get the W. Hassan Whiteside hit two clutch free throws in the final seconds to seal the deal for the Blazers.

FINAL BOX SCORE: TRAIL BLAZERS 129, WARRIORS 124

Here are three quick takeaways from Monday’s win:

1.  Lillard takes over 

Double-teamed, triple-teamed -- the Warriors threw everything they had at Damian Lillard. Golden State even picked Lillard up full court for most of the game. But, they still couldn’t slow down the Trail Blazers All-Star point guard. Lillard notched 42 points through the first three quarters. He was on the attack for most of the night, which resulted in him getting to the line. Lillard finished the night 11-of-11 from the charity stripe, but there were still plenty of no-calls Lillard was not happy about. Lillard's three-pointer with 15.6 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 113, which eventually meant the Blazers and Warriors were heading to OT. Lillard finished with a new career-high and franchise record 61 points. 

2. Both teams struggle from deep

The Trail Blazers had a good shooting night from inside the arc. Portland shot 54.2 percent from the field in the first quarter, but went just 1-of-4 from three for the quarter.  

It was even more of a struggle for Golden State early. The Warriors started the game shooting 0-for-8 from long distance in the first quarter, and 32.1 percent from the field.  The three-point shooting didn’t get much better for either team with Damian Lillard being the exception. Lillard was the only Trail Blazer who had made a three-pointer until 48.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Mario Hezonja hit a wide open three from the wing.

3. Warriors take advantage of young Blazers

Rookie mistakes quickly became a common theme Monday night for Portland. Nassir Little, Jaylen Hoard, and Moses Brown all found themselves out of rotation on the defensive end at least once or twice. Their lapses at that end of the floor not only resulted in the Warriors putting up big numbers in the paint, but the lapses also resulted in limited minutes for the young bigs.   

Up Next: Portland will continue its four-game homestand when the Blazers host the Dallas Mavericks Thursday night.

Check back throughout tonight and tomorrow for more articles and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers in action vs. Golden State Warriors, follow for live updates

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Trail Blazers in action vs. Golden State Warriors, follow for live updates

Monday marks the first of the next four games at home for the Portland Trail Blazers (18-28).

The Blazers host the Golden State Warriors (10-34) after returning from their latest three-game trip banged up, dealing with the flu, and dealing with a trade.

For full coverage of the game from Dwight JaynesJamie Hudson and our digital team, follow us on social throughout the night for the latest updates. 

How to Listen to the Game:

Catch all the action on Rip City Radio 620 with Travis Demers and Michael Holton

Quote of The Week

“When you’re sick, the morning is always the worst,” Trent Jr. said postgame. “You’re groggy, you’re tired, you’re sore and obviously playing that night before, but like I said though, the medical staff made sure I was well prepared for the game. So, I’m fortunate they were there for me." – Trail Blazers backup guard Gary Trent Jr. on playing through an illness on the night he scored a career-high 30 points

Quick Links 

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Terry Stotts says the testing on CJ McCollum's ankle is 'manageable'

The real reason for making the Trevor Ariza trade is the most obvious one

VIDEO:  What does MLK Day mean to the Trail Blazers?

VIDEO:  HIGHLIGHT -- Shorthanded Blazers stumble in OKC

VIDEO:  PUT ANT IN THE DUNK CONTEST!

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Terry Stotts says the testing on CJ McCollum's ankle is 'manageable'

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Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Terry Stotts says the testing on CJ McCollum's ankle is 'manageable'

The Trail Blazers will suit up nine players against the Golden State Warriors Monday night with rookie two-way player Moses Brown brought up from the G League for Monday’s game. 

Before the Blazers and Warriors tipped off on national television, Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts gave the latest updates on his banged up team.

He wouldn’t give too much of an update on McCollum’s left sprained ankle.

I’m not going to necessarily comment on the severity or when he’s going to come back or anything like that… Yeah, go ahead and ask me every game… Whatever testing was done it’s manageable. – Terry Stotts on CJ McCollum’s ankle.

HEAR FROM COACH STOTTS HERE:

BLAZERS INJURY REPORT:

CJ McCollum (left ankle sprain) is out for Monday's game vs. Golden State.

WARRIORS INJURY REPORT:

Glenn Robinson III (right ankle sprain), Steph Curry (left hand fracture), Jacob Evans (concussion), Kevon Looney (left abdominal soreness), and Klay Thompson (left acl rehabilitation) are out.

Even though Draymond Green is not on the injured list it sounds like he will not play due to an illness. 

STANDOUT GAME NOTES:

-- Monday’s contest will mark the third of four meetings between the Trail Blazers and Warriors during the 2019-20 season. The season series is tied, 1-1.

-- LAST MEETING: The Trail Blazers beat the Warriors, 122-112 in Portland on Dec. 18. Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers with 31 points (9-20 FG, 2-8 3-PT, 11-13 FT) to go with five rebounds and a season-high 13 assists while D’Angelo Russell paced the Warriors with 26 points (9-23 FG, 5-12 3-PT, 3-4 FT), seven assists and two blocks.

-- AT THE LINE: Golden State and Portland are the two best free-throw shooting teams in the NBA, at 81.0% and 80.9% respectively.

-- In two games against Golden State this season, Damian Lillard has averaged 35.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.00 block. He has scored at least 29 points in each of his last four games against the Warriors. Lillard has a career scoring average of 27.7 against the Warriors, which is his highest scoring average against any team in the NBA.

-- Hassan Whiteside had 16 points (8-14 FG) and pulled down a season-high 23 rebounds to go with two blocks against the Warriors on Dec. 18. Whiteside has averaged 19.0 points, 17.0 rebounds and 2.00 blocks in two games against Golden State this season.

-- D’Angelo Russell has scored 20-plus points in four of his last five games against the Trail Blazers. In those five games, Russell has averaged 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

Trail Blazers honor and pay tribute, explain what MLK Day means to them

Trail Blazers honor and pay tribute, explain what MLK Day means to them

A celebrated holiday once a year, but something and someone to remember every single day: This is Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Portland Trail Blazers took time to recognize and reflect on what this day means to each of them.

"MLK Day means a lot to me. Understanding the history of black culture, how far we’ve come in the United States. It just shows that we have a long way to go, but we’ve come so far." — CJ McCollum

"It’s the world acknowledging a man who played such a huge role in the world we live in today. The movement he created, the inspiration from his words, the fact that it’s living on to this day and people are giving it that much power— I think it’s only right that we celebrate on a day." — Damian Lillard

"MLK Day means coming together and everybody being treated as equals." — Hassan Whiteside

"A special day for everybody, in general. To come together as all races and commemorate somebody that fought for our independence and our rights to become equal." — Anfernee Simons 

"It’s one man sacrificing his life, his livelihood to see people like myself and others live out their dreams, achieve their goals and try to change the world." — Kent Bazemore

"He was such an amazing man and made such an impact on the world, not just the United States. Honoring him is a pleasure of mine." — Anthony Tolliver 

"It means a lot to me. It’s a day to celebrate Martin Luther King and all of his sacrifices that he made not just for African Americans, but for everybody in the world. We appreciate this day." — Rodney Hood

Watch the full video above for more

** We decided to keep the quotes of Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver in this article even though the two have been traded since the availability. Just because they're not on the team anymore doesn't mean their thoughts are any less valuable.

A leaner Caleb Swanigan making his return, but things are a bit different now

A leaner Caleb Swanigan making his return, but things are a bit different now

It was exactly 345 days since the reported trade that sent Caleb Swanigan to Sacramento to the reported trade that sent Biggie back to Portland. 

Swanigan, a 6-9 forward out of Purdue, was selected by the Trail Blazers in the 2017 NBA Draft with the 26th overall pick.

Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard is happy to see Biggie return to Portland. 

“It’s pretty cool,” Lillard said after Saturday’s loss to the Thunder. “I think his time here – he was young, he really wanted to play, wanted to help, but it didn’t work out, so I know he was frustrated by that."

Swanigan played in 45 games before being traded to Sacramento for Skal Labissiere at the 2019 trade deadline.

But, before he departed Rip City he developed special bonds with his teammates, especially the younger players.

On a night where Gary Trent, Jr. went off and scored a career-high 30 points against OKC, he also reminisced about playing alongside Swanigan.

The two had a pregame routine.

“My rookie year, I played Biggie basically one-on-one before every game. I’m glad to have him back… For the new teammates, too, I can’t wait to meet them, as well,” Trent Jr. said.

Much has already been made about Swanigan’s story.

At just 22 years old, there's no question, Biggie has been through a lot.

Growing up, Swanigan moved between Utah and Indiana while spending part of his youth in homeless shelters.

The power forward has discussed how he developed bad eating habits in high school that caused him to gain a lot of weight making it harder to play basketball.

He then got let go by the team that took a chance on him after just 45 games.

Watching the young fella go through that, Lillard believes that situation has most likely helped Swanigan grow as a player and as a person.

“At the time he probably felt like he needed a change and felt like he was going to go somewhere and get more opportunity. In SAC it didn’t work out,” Lillard said. 

I think he’ll come back and it’ll be refreshing for him to be back in a good environment, somewhere where he has been so it’ll be comfortable, and we dealing with all these injuries, so it’s going to be a lot of opportunity here for him. – Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard on Caleb Swanigan

This season, Swanigan appeared in just 10 games with Sacramento. He has spent a majority of his time with the G-League’s Stockton Kings where he averaged 8.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game in 19.7 mintues.

According to NBCS Kings Insider James Ham, the Blazers will be getting back a leaner Swanigan. Biggie is as much as 40 pounders smaller than he was when he left Portland.

With Saturday’s trade not being made official until Tuesday, it’s still unclear whether Swanigan will be in Portland's long-term plans or if he may be included in any future dealings.

But for right now, Lillard wants to set the record straight about his teammates' attitude, which can seem gruff, at times.  

“Biggie’s a really good dude," Lillard said. "Just misunderstood sometimes, but I think it’s a great opportunity for him especially because he’s been here before and we actually need big bodies.”

That they do.

Portland announced Sunday that they have recalled center Moses Brown from the G-League’s Texas Legends.

The Blazers host the Warriors Monday night before the trade of Swanigan, Trevor Ariza, and Wenyen Gabriel becomes official Tuesday. 

The real reason for making the Trevor Ariza trade is the most obvious one

The real reason for making the Trevor Ariza trade is the most obvious one

One last clarification on the imminent addition of Trevor Ariza and his impact on trades and the Trail Blazers' salary cap:

Though the contract counts only as the current guaranteed amount of $1.8 million, the salary protection can be adjusted upward to any amount up to the full contract number of $12.8 million to make a trade work. So based on the 175 percent range to make a trade work, the contract can still bring back significantly more salary than the Trail Blazers would send out, making it very favorable to the other team.

It has been speculated that the Trail Blazers are taking the first step toward moving under the tax threshold by making this deal. But that's not likely. Most league sources believe that to get its payroll pruned to that extent, Portland would have to convey a first-round draft pick -- which the team is not likely to do.

The real reason for the trade is likely the most obvious one -- it brings in a player who may be a better fit than the ones who left, while saving the team $12.3 million. The team may be slightly more competitive with a 6-8 small forward, who at one time was a solid 3-and-D player, while making the payroll a bit more responsible.

Here's the inside scoop on Trevor Ariza and Wenyen Gabriel

Here's the inside scoop on Trevor Ariza and Wenyen Gabriel

Sacramento Kings Insider for NBCS James Ham his here to the rescue!

Ham is providing Trail Blazers fans with everything they need to know about the newest Trail Blazers before Saturday’s trade with the Kings becomes official.

Ham has been covering the Kings since September of 2015.

And, he thinks Blazers fans will like what they see from the two players they’ve never seen in a Blazers jersey.

First up: NBA Champion Trevor Ariza   

“Ariza signed a two-year, $25 million deal in the offseason to provide veteran leadership and depth at the forward position. The final year is only guaranteed for $1.8 million, making him slightly more than an expiring contract for Portland. He was a calming influence on the Kings younger players, especially on the defensive end. He's not as mobile as he once was and his 3-point shot goes on the fritz at inopportune times, but he’s a solid player that can help replace some of the defense that the Blazers lost during the offseason with the departures of Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu.” – James Ham

Ariza seems like a guy who could fit in nicely with Terry Stotts’ system. The 43rd overall pick of the 2004 NBA draft is averaging six points and 4.6 rebounds this season.

And then there is Wenyen Gabriel:

“After a strong showing in Summer League during the summer of 2018, the Sacramento Kings inked Wenyen Gabriel to a two-year, two-way contract. He didn’t play a minute for the kings last season, instead spending his entire season with the Kings’ G League affiliate in Stockton.

While he didn’t have a breakout season with the Stockton Kings, Gabriel hit the weight room hard during the summer and impressed new head coach Luke Walton with his work ethic. During training, Garbiel continued with his strong play and the Kings converted his two-way contract to a regular roster contract.

With a bevy of injuries, the Kings reduced their rotation down to a small number of players early in the season. Gabriel has seen limited action, but the coaching staff continued to work on his development off the court. He is a hard worker with an NBA body. He’s long and athletic and he’s worked hard to stretch his shooting range beyond the 3-point line.

Wenyen is well liked in the locker room and he has plenty of potential as a combo-forward. He will need time to develop, but there is a chance for him to become an NBA rotational player down the road.” – James Ham

One thing is certain when it comes to Gabriel:

He has a good sense of humor.

The 22-year-old has played in 11 total games for the Kings this season.

Portland will host the Golden State Warriors Monday night and will be short-handed once again because the trade will not be official until at least Tuesday.

Make sure to keep it locked on NBCSNW for more on the newest Trail Blazers.

Keeping the faith: How Bazemore and Tolliver will be missed

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Keeping the faith: How Bazemore and Tolliver will be missed

Thinking back to last July when Kent Bazemore first spoke with the media: He was dressed in a suit for his official press conference as a Trail Blazer -- a bright-eyed veteran forward who was eager to have a fresh beginning.

Anthony Tolliver had just finished a workout before addressing the media on a warm summer day. He discussed his excitement to join a team that was coming off a Western Conference Finals run. He was ready to help the Blazers space the floor and provide leadership off the bench.

It didn’t pan out the way these two had hoped, to say the least. Although, their eventual trade was prognosticated.

And while it was expected that Baze and AT wouldn’t be in Portland very long, based on their contracts, that doesn't mean there isn't plenty that their teammates are going to miss about them.

Reports of the two being traded surfaced Saturday afternoon, nearly four hours before the Blazers tipped off their final game of their three-game trip with Portland visiting OKC.

For many of Rip City faithful, they will miss Bazemore’s chase down blocks and the energy he brought on the defensive end.

Yet, fans may not know exactly what will be missed when it comes to Bazemore and Tolliver in the eyes of the Blazer players themselves.

While reminiscing about the past four months, the Blazers mentioned how they will miss the way Tolliver carried himself as a journeyman in the league.

They will also miss the way he connected them to their faith.  

Tolliver was a big advocate of attending chapel.

The chapel sessions usually last about 15 minutes. For some players, such as Tolliver, attending chapel service has become a staple in their pregame routine.

All 30 NBA teams have volunteer chaplains who meet with the teams an hour before every game inside every arena. There’s no requirement that players attend, though more did this year.

Directly following Saturday’s loss to the Thunder, all eyes were on Trail Blazers floor general Damian Lillard as he spoke about the move.

For Lillard, it’s all about staying neutral when a trade comes down the pipe. He’s the face of the franchise. He has to remain steadfast, diplomatic.

Strong.

But now, thanks to Tolliver, Lillard has his faith to lean on more. 

I’m always in the middle when the moves happen because I develop friendships and relationships with my teammates... Me and Baze spent a lot of time around each other, interacted a lot even before he was brought to Portland… It’s sad to see him go.  

Same thing with AT.

AT has been a big part of me taken a step forward in my faith. Being in Chapel and sending scriptures and stuff like that – so, he’s had an impact on me and our team in that way and how he is with the younger players – showing them how to be a true professional. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard on losing Bazemore and Tolliver   

While a handful of Blazers addressed the media about the trade, Jusuf Nurkic and Mario Hezonja took to Twitter to thank their now former teammates and wish them luck.


The two veterans, who are about to embark on their new life in Sacramento, may have had the most impact on the young Blazers just like Lillard said.

On a career night for Gary Trent Jr., he discussed how difficult it is to lose teammates to a trade.

The second-year player believes there are two big things he will truly miss: The energy and faith...

AT and Baze were great teammates. I learned a lot from Baze. Same with AT. With AT, with his presence, having a bible study for the team, we’re going to miss that type of stuff. Baze, with his energy. Me and Baze was always joking around, playing around every day with each other. But, it’s a business, at the end of the day, and teams are going to have to do what they have to do. We all know, we all signed up for that. I wish nothing but the best for them. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard Gary Trent Jr.

Just because every professional athlete knows and says “it’s a business,” doesn’t mean they have to be okay with it all.

And from the sounds of it, it doesn’t ever seem to get any easier.  

Seventeen-year veteran, Carmelo Anthony has witnessed his fair share of trades.

He said he “was shocked” to get the text about the move, but offered up an explanation on how he deals with teammates coming and going:

“I say it’s a part of the game… Because you start to build friendships and relationships and bonds with guys, and at any given moment something like that can actually happen. I’m more talking about everything outside of basketball. I think the front office had to do what they had to do -- I don’t question that, but from our standpoint as players and guys who got a chance to kind of bond and build a friendship that’s a tough one,” Melo said.

It’s all part of the game, fair or foul.

Still, it’s part of Lillard’s approach of ‘staying in the middle’ when it comes to trades is about making sure he’s not just focusing on losing teammates.

“You’ve got new guys coming in and you don’t want to lose sight of the fact that it’s a business and make guys who are coming in not feel welcome – that’s why I’m always in the middle, because I’m always going to welcome new teammates, but it’s always sad to see guys you’ve got a relationship with [go].”

As Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers welcome in Trevor Ariza and Wenyen Gabriel, while also welcoming back Caleb Swanigan, it’s about starting anew right now.

The second half of the season is about to ramp up for the Blazers, Lillard is looking forward to what Ariza could bring to this team.

"I think he can really help us. I think the situation that we in 18-26 I think; it’s not where we planned on being. Things haven't been working out, we haven't been winning a lot of games and his experience, his skill set --3 and D, he can guard, pretty much four positions… And his size, it gives us something we could really use,” Lillard said.

The Trail Blazers will still have to wait at least one more game to start figuring it out with their new pieces. The trade will not become official until Tuesday.

Portland hosts Golden State Monday night at 7:00pm on NBCSNW.

Trail Blazer fans: Relying on someone else's expertise is not always the best thing

Trail Blazer fans: Relying on someone else's expertise is not always the best thing

Tom Ziller added a paragraph to his post a few minutes ago that pretty much takes all the punch out of it, The paragraph reads:

An earlier version of this story said Ariza could be traded in the offseason at his full salary of $12.8 million. That’s not true: only his guaranteed salary of $1.8 million would count in a trade.

Anyway, here's the rest of the post as written:

I've never considered myself an NBA salary cap expert. It's gotten too complicated these days and frankly, things like that don't interest me too much. So I leave it to the experts.

But Tom Ziller IS an expert and he's opened my eyes to the Easter egg in the Trevor Ariza trade that's waiting for the Trail Blazers:

All of these contracts expire this summer, with the exception of Ariza: he’s due $12.8 million next season, with a wrinkle. Bazemore makes much more (he’s a Free Agent Class of 2016 alum), and this deal significantly cuts Portland’s tax bill, apparently saving the Blazers $16 million. The Kings did the Blazers an enormous favor here at little cost to them, except giving up on Swanigan and Gabriel, who had been spending much of their recent time in the G League for the Stockton Kings.

The wrinkle on Ariza’s deal is that he’s only guaranteed $1.8 million of his $12.8 million contract next season. If he doesn’t help the Blazers, they can waive him and escape most of salary cap hit. Bazemore’s contract is expiring; Ariza’s might as well be. That $1.8 million would count against the salary cap and potential luxury tax for Portland next season, but the current season savings and theoretical better roster fit counter that. (Plus, there’s a decent chance Portland could unload one of Swanigan or Gabriel before the deadline to further lower the luxury tax hit.)

But Ariza’s mostly unguaranteed 2020-21 salary is interesting for another reason: it makes him a fascinating trade chip as fake salary filler, especially in the time around the NBA draft. The Blazers will be able to use Ariza in a trade to match salaries as if he’s a player making $12.8 million. The team that trades for him in such a deal can then waive him before next season — we don’t know the exact non-guarantee deadline, but these things are often in June and typically negotiable with the player — to cut salary.

There are plenty of positives in this deal and not all of them are obvious. I like the "fake salary filler" gambit the best. More from Ziller:

We don’t know that the Blazers are big game hunting as this season has been shredded by injuries to Nurkic and Zach Collins, and the ownership situation is somewhat unsettled in the wake of Paul Allen’s death. Allen would consistently spend to make the team better. We don’t yet know if that will continue.

If it does, and if Portland elects to make a major splash in the next couple of weeks or this summer, Ariza’s contract could really help make the numbers work. If nothing comes to pass, the Ariza trade saves the Blazers a substantial sum of money. And if all that’s not enough, there’s a chance — not a big one, but a chance — that Ariza helps Portland in the right ways to take hold of the up-for-grabs No. 8 seed in the West.