During the Portland Trail Blazers' 141-105 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday evening, something very interesting occurred during the final 4:59 of the game.
Cavs center Anderson Varejao had the highest Blazers salary for the 2020-21 season of anyone on the floor, including all five Trail Blazers.
Let me explain.
Members of Rip City may recall when the Blazers traded for Varejao at the 2016 trade deadline in return for a Cavaliers 2018 first-round pick. Portland promptly waived and stretched his $9.6 million salary over five seasons through 2020-21.
In the final year of Varejao being on the Blazers cap sheet, he is owed $1.9 million.
On Wednesday, the Blazers finished the game playing Harry Giles, CJ Elleby, TJ Leaf, Kevin Blevins and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during garbage time. All five Trail Blazers are making less this season than Varejao is owed.
Giles is being paid $1.6 million, Elleby is getting $898k, Hollis-Jefferson is getting $245k while Leaf and Blevins are on two-way contracts.
What did that 2018 first round pick become? Well, it actually got traded again with Cleveland in exchange for the Cavs 2017 first-rounder which the Blazers promptly used on Caleb Swanigan with Kyle Kuzma being selected one pick after.
If Varejao's $1.9 million salary wasn't on the books, the Blazers could have used the bi-annual exception this past summer rather than let it go unused to avoid the luxury tax.
“We don’t have the bi-annual,” Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey explained prior to the season, “Unless we were willing to go into the luxury tax…”
On October 31, 2014, Varejão signed a three-year, $30 million contract extension (third-year team option) with the Cavaliers which could have been taken off the books ahead of the 2017 offseason.
Instead of rejecting his team option ahead of the 2017 offseason, the Blazers stretched it so it still impacted the team five years later to open up cap space during the 2016 offseason. That additional space was used to sign Evan Turner to a 4-year, $70 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. Additionally, the Blazers with re-signed Allen Crabbe (4-years, $75 million), Meyers Leonard (4-years, $41 million) and Maurice Harkless (4 years, $40 million) using bird rights.
Congrats to Varejao for finessing the system.