The Portland Trail Blazers cut their luxury tax bill in half after trading Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second-round picks to the Sacramento Kings Saturday afternoon for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan, as reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The picks acquired by Sacramento will be Portland's second-round selections in 2024 and 2025, as reported by Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes.
The biggest name in this for the Blazers is Ariza, who is putting up pedestrian numbers this season in Sacramento, averaging 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds. However, Portland is likely hoping that Ariza can capture the shooting success he had in Washington last season, where he averaged 14.1 points after being traded there from the Phoenix Suns. Ariza signed a two-year, $25 million deal with the Sacramento Kings in the offseason, with the second year being partially guaranteed, and will now head to a Portland team that can desperately use his defensive prowess. The Trail Blazers rank 24th in the league in defensive rating (112.1), and just lost a game to the Dallas Mavericks where they allowed them to shoot 42.6 percent from 3-point range while letting Luka Doncic go off for 35 points in a 120-112 loss.
For Sacramento, adding Bazemore does little to move the needle in trying to make a push for the playoffs this season, and while the Kings are at the bottom looking up at the rest of the Western Conference standings, Bazemore has no intention on asking for a buyout to join a contending team, as Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes went on to report. This was supposed to be the year that the Kings would finally end their 13-year playoff drought. However, with injuries to De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley Jr., the losses started to pile up quickly.
With both teams currently on the outside of the playoff picture, the long-term considerations at play matter quite a bit. With that in mind, let's grade this trade for both sides.
Blazers trade grade: B
The primary motivation here for Portland appears to be financial. Ariza, Gabriel and Swanigan combine to make around $15.7 million this season, whereas Bazemore and Tolliver come in at around $21.8 million. When luxury tax payments are factored in, the deal will save Portland around $12.3 million in total. At this point, they remain a little over $6 million above the tax line, so if the season continues to go south, watch out for more cash-cutting moves. Their path to ducking the tax entirely would likely revolve around flipping Hassan Whiteside's expiring contract in exchange for smaller, but longer contracts.
Such a move makes sense for Portland on the court as well, as big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins should return in time to help the Blazers push for a playoff spot. They desperately needed forward help, though, as their primary wing defenders so far this season had been the 6-5 Bazemore and Carmelo Anthony, never known for his defensive exploits. The numbers are still generally quite favorable to Ariza on that end of the floor. He is fifth among small forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, was fourth on the Kings in Defensive Win Shares despite trailing the players ahead of him in minutes by a wide margin, and Sacramento's defense as a whole was 6.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (105) than off of it (111.7).
The eye-test hasn't been quite as convincing. Ariza has clearly lost a step athletically. At 34, that is to be expected, and he is playing his fewest minutes in over a decade. Getting Ariza three years ago would have gotten the Blazers an easy "A," but this version is quite as safe. Still, the Blazers needed someone small forward-size who could at least provide passable defense on the Western Conference's best wings. Luka Doncic nailing a step-back dagger over the far shorter Bazemore in Portland's last game before this trade made that clear. They got that, and they managed to save quite a bit of money in the process.
The primary downside here is cost. The Blazers gave up around 42 minutes of playing time per night for something closer to 25. That's a minor trade-off for most teams, but injuries have decimated Portland's depth. Swanigan and Gabrial don't deserve those minutes, so Portland will have to look to internal options. More minutes for promising rookie Nassir Little would be beneficial for the long-term but would make their pursuit of a playoff spot even harder. Portland also already owed second-round picks in 2020, 2021 and 2023 from other trades. Their 2022 pick is now their last second-round for the next six drafts. Making smaller trades like this is going to be difficult for the time being, so even though the Blazers got what they were looking for out of this deal, the price wasn't exactly cheap.
Kings trade grade: B-
The Kings got the best player in this trade in Bazemore, but how he fits into their roster remains to be seen. De'Aaron Fox, Cory Joseph, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic take up all of Sacramento's backcourt minutes, and the Bazemore as a small forward experiment failed in Portland. Sacramento has had success with Bogdanovic playing some small forward, but he's hardly an ideal defender at that spot. The Kings will be playing small on the wings for the foreseeable future with this deal.
Sacramento's real motivator here, aside from the second-round picks, was chemistry. Tolliver has been a union leader for years and is widely respected around the NBA. while Bazemore has always drawn rave reviews in the locker room. The Kings have already had one player in DeWayne Dedmon ask to be traded. Buddy Hield finds something new to complain about almost every night. Most of the goodwill from last year's surprise season is gone, and whether that is the result of their surprise coaching change or the infusion of veterans this offseason, something had to be done to bring this team back together. This move should help that process, provided Bazemore doesn't impact Hield's minutes.
The question that remains is how this deal will affect Sacramento's other deadline plans. So far, they've held off on trading Bogdanovic, an upcoming restricted free agent. Clearing out the $1.8 million owed to Ariza next season won't hurt in their efforts to re-sign him, but it shouldn't be lost here that Bazemore ideally plays his position. The Lakers will surely ask whether this trade impacts their rumored swap of Bogdanovic for Kyle Kuzma, but only time will tell whether or not it does. For now, the Kings managed to pick up two second-round picks and potentially help their locker room. All it really cost them was Vivek Ranadive's money. If he's happy to pay it, then this is a perfectly acceptable trade.