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Nets interested in acquiring Portland pick

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have a problem, a number of them, in fact. They have 12 players on the books next season for $132 million and have three first round picks as well. If they used all three, at Nos. 15, 20 and 26, they’d have to pay out another $5 million ... and $10 million in luxury taxes ... and make a four-year commitment to each.

Their biggest problem is they won only 41 games with little hope of a big improvement. So they’re looking, suggests RealGM and Sporting News, to make a deal. To get more flexibility and avoid an $11 million luxury tax bill, they might even be ready to do a salary dump, maybe of Allen Crabbe, the 6’6” swingman who they’re going to pay $55 million over the next three years, unless they find a way to turn him into a trade asset.

The question, as Brian Lewis of the Post writes Thursday, would the Nets be interested?

“If the Nets wanted him before, would they still have interest?” Lewis notes. “Or would they feel they dodged an expensive bullet?”

No one on the Nets side of things is talking, but Sean Deveney of Sporting News writes that both the Knicks and the Nets are interested in acquiring one of the three picks, with Brooklyn having a history with Crabbe.

The Nets have inquired, too, and that could be interesting because of the Nets’ ability to absorb salary. Brooklyn stands to have about $40 million in cap space next summer, and without much to offer big-time free agents, leveraging that space to accumulate picks with bad contracts would make sense for the Nets...

Crabbe might be the most inviting trade target, especially for the Nets. They offered him the four-year, $75 million deal he originally signed as a restricted free agent last July before the Blazers matched the terms. Problem is, Crabbe comes with a 15-percent trade kicker...”

Trade kickers can be waived however and under the new CBA, the obligation to pay him rests with the trading team, meaning Portland.

Crabbe, 25, did not have a bad year, shooting 46 percent overall and better than 44 percent from three, averaging 10.7 points in 79 games, seven as a starter. Those are better numbers all around than he had in 2015-16, after which the Nets tendered him an offer sheet worth $75 million. The question is can he improve those numbers —and other parts of his game to justify a deal that would kill more than half of the Nets current cap space.

Not everyone thinks he can. In his end-of-the-season podcast, Mike Richman, Blazers beat writer for The Oregonian, compared Crabbe and Evan Turner, who was also signed to a $70+ million deal last summer. He thinks Turner is a better all-around player.

“He can dribble, Allen Crabbe has no idea how to dribble.

“He can pass, Allen Crabbe has no idea how to pass.

“He can play defense. Allen Crabbe didn’t try to play defense the first 45 games of the season.

“Crabbe can't possibly live up to that $18 million a year contract just because his game is somewhat limited.”

He also mentioned the possibility of a salary dump.

“They’re going be a tax team and they might have to dump off some contracts. It's messy. a messy couple of years ahead of them.”

Richman admitted Crabbe is “an incredibly gifted shooter” but added he’s sometimes reluctant to shoot, never taking more than 16 shots in a game. Still, he hit 134 three pointers, the same number as Brook Lopez.

Lewis thinks the Nets may be willing to do a deal, noting their need for shooting at the wing.

Marks admitted his team needs to fix the small forward spot. And despite taking the fourth-most 3-pointers in the league (31.6) during the season, the Nets made the fifth-worst percentage (.338). Crabbe was second-best in the NBA with a career-best 44.4 percent. Portland, in line for a $132 million payroll next year, can’t afford him. The Nets can.

Moreover, there are few NBA teams that could afford Crabbe, who have the $19.33 million in cap space needed to take him on. The market is thin. So the Nets, if they want Crabbe, could have the upper hand. On the other hand, do the Nets want to pay that much and do they want a third pick in the 20’s? Hard to imagine Portland giving up the 15th pick.

Of course, it’s possible the Blazers look at moving other players not named Crabbe. Other than Turner, Portland has Meyers Leonard, a stretch 5 with, as Richman notes, “confidence issues,” and Maurice Harkless, a 6’8” swingman who was also disappointing. Both are owed around $33 million over the next three seasons. Harkless is a local product from Queens and St. John’s.

There’s plenty of time for the Nets and Blazers to decide. Under the CBA, a team that tendered an offer sheet which was then matched can’t make a deal for that player until after the first anniversary of the offer sheet. That would mean July 9. Of course, the two sides could make a handshake deal, then simply wait until July 9 to conclude it.

As we’ve noted, the Nets have a lot of flexibility this summer. This is one area where they will have to think long and hard about using it.