LAS VEGAS -- With their four-year, $32 million offer sheet for restricted free agent Paul Millsap, the Trail Blazers have woven a web that has ensnared bonus money, luxury-tax considerations, and the future of Carlos Boozer. Based on conversations with NBA front office sources, here's an attempt at untangling it:
Utah is currently about $3 million over the luxury tax. If they match the offer sheet for Millsap, they'd be close to $12 million over. A person familiar with Utah's situation said the team has accepted the fact that it is going to be a tax-paying team, but nobody expects the Jazz to venture that far into the land of the taxpayers. So something has to give.
In order to keep Millsap and get under the tax threshold of $69.9 million, Utah would have to trade Boozer (due to make $12.7 million next season) and take virtually no salary back. The only way to do that is to recruit a third team that is under the cap -- one that is willing to take on salary for the price of draft picks and cash.
At this point in the free-agent period, only two teams remain under the cap: Oklahoma City, which is getting plenty of calls from teams looking to recruit them as a trade partner, and Portland. The Blazers aren't interested in Boozer; they already have a starting power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, and covet Millsap for his willingness to be a role player and contribute in ways that vary from the traditional post-up forward. Oklahoma City is the key.
UPDATE: The Thunder currently are about $11.5 million under the cap, but aren't eager to use that space by becoming a dumping ground for contracts shed in a Boozer deal, according to sources. Despite its acquisition of Zach Randolph, Memphis surprisingly has several million dollars in wiggle room -- and will get $5.2 million more on Friday, when their Dallas-assisted buyout of Jerry Stackhouse hits their books.
One interesting aspect of this tale is the fact that Utah is in better financial shape to match Millsap's signing bonus than was originally assumed. The maximum signing bonus that can be included in an offer sheet is 17.5 percent of the total contract -- in this case, $5.6 million. Many NBA teams would have trouble writing a check that big without borrowing the money, but Utah, according to NBA front office sources, isn't one of them. The team's only debt is a small amount owed on its arena, so paying Millsap a signing bonus would be "a non-event for them," according to one of the sources.
The signing bonus is prorated for the life of the deal for cap purposes to preserve the structure of year-to-year raises prescribed by the CBA. But Utah must front that money to Millsap in order to meet the exact requirements of matching the Portland offer.
UPDATE: If the Jazz decide to venture deep into tax territory by matching the Millsap offer, they would have a few months to find the best deal for Boozer. They wouldn't be locked into a tax level until the February trade deadline, when they might get better offers from teams eager to clear 2010-11 cap space by acquiring Boozer's expiring contract. But their leverage also might diminish because teams would know they were desperate to shed tax money.
From the Blazers' standpoint, it's not clear what their options would be if Utah matched the offer sheet. Portland has between $7.7 million and $9 million in cap space, which was preserved when Hedo Turkoglu backed out of his verbal agreement and signed with the Raptors. If the Blazers don't use that money this season, it won't be available next summer because they will have to use it to sign Brandon Roy and Aldridge to extensions.
Confused? Hopefully less so than before you started reading.