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Teams are officially allowed to engage in contract negotiations with free agents on Monday afternoon. As much as the Trail Blazers would prefer more financial flexibility heading into free agency, one factor is crucial for Rip City to keep in mind as Neil Olshey and the front office face their most consequential period of player movement ever.

If Norman Powell doesn't re-sign in Portland, remember, the cash-strapped Blazers will lose access to his salary slot and possess even longer odds of building a legitimate title contender around Damian Lillard. Olshey could use the full mid-level exception to woo free agents in that doomsday scenario, but its $9.5 million value is about half of what Powell is expected to command as an unrestricted free agent—the normal price teams pay for quality starters.

The taxpayer's mid-level exception—or "mini" mid-level—will be the only significant means Portland has to further exceed the cap and sign exterior free agents. With that $5.9 million to spend, the Blazers are highly unlikely to bring in the three-and-D wing who would fill the biggest hole on their roster and the entire league covets. Even the Los Angeles Lakers, retooling around basketball's starriest Big Three in its most glamorous market, are bound to have trouble finding a surefire impact player with the mini mid-level.

Where does that leave Portland? Surely out of the running for revitalized former Blazer Nic Batum, and even 34-year-old Danny Green. Reggie Bullock, Kelly Oubre and Alec Burks will also prove too expensive. Snug roster fits like JaMychal Green and P.J. Tucker seem poised to re-sign with the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks for more than the Blazers could give them.

Take a deep breath, Rip City. Portland won't be adding the big names in free agency you've been dreaming about since the season ended two months ago. The margins are the only place the Blazers will improve in free agency, and these five players—ranked in order of preference—could very well provide it by signing in Portland for the mini mid-level.

5. Paul Millsap

Millsap, 36, isn't the All-Defense stalwart he was in his mid-to-late prime, but could still give the Blazers some much-needed scheme versatility off the bench. He's not completely outmatched switching on defense as a small-ball center, and could even slot alongside Jusuf Nurkic in the frontcourt for a couple stints per game when necessary. Portland could certainly use the sense of stability defensively Millsap's keen help instincts provide, too.

Still, Millsap's streaky outside shooting and diminished finishing ability limit his potential impact. If the Blazers are using the mini mid-level on a big man, it better be one whose influence is tangible game-by-game on at least one side of the floor. Millsap, about to embark on his 16th season in the NBA, isn't quite there anymore.

4. Torrey Craig

Craig isn't a stopper, and not as fleet of foot as he was while first establishing himself in the league with the Nuggets a few years ago. His length and activity still make him a viable defender of multiple positions, though, and Craig proved during his late-season time with the Phoenix Suns that he can be a rotation player for a good team—even deep in the postseason.

But much of Craig's success with the Suns was predicated on Monty Williams' variable offensive attack, affording him pathways to the rim as a half-court cutter and transition runner. Never more than a marginal three-point shooter, Craig—despite a steady diet of wide-open attempts—went predictably cold from deep over the second half of the playoffs following a hot start.

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It's telling of Portland's financial constraints that a player of Craig's underwhelming caliber is an attractive option in free agency. As much as he'd help the Blazers defensively and give them an occasional jolt on the other end, Olshey should first set his sights a bit higher than Craig.

3. Blake Griffin

In early March, when Griffin's imminent buyout from the Detroit Pistons sparked rumors of mutual interest between he and Portland, the idea of him suiting for the Blazers didn't make much sense. Griffin was coming off another lethargic, injury-plagued season in Detroit, and he hadn't shown anything to suggest he could be a positive contributor in the postseason.

But following a rock-solid playoffs starting at center for the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin is now the rare available big man who fits what Portland wants to do on both ends of the floor. He was Brooklyn's best defender of Giannis Antetokounmpo, by far, and rediscovered some of the lost explosiveness that originally propelled him to superstardom nearly a decade ago. Maybe most importantly, Griffin went 45-of-117 from three on high volume during his time with the Nets, further evidence that he's a capable long-range shooter when healthy.

Griffin probably wants to be back in Brooklyn next season, where he has an obvious role and the best chance to win a championship. But the Nets can only pay Griffin 120 percent of his previous minimum salary, and Portland could certainly do worse in free agency than adding a semi-switchable big man with clear versatility on offense.

2. Jeff Green

This summer should be when the league finally wises up and pays Jeff Green, a tailor-made role player for the modern NBA who's signed a series of annual contracts worth the veteran's minimum over the last few years. Everything he provided the Nets last season as a stretch 4 and small-ball center would be welcome for the Blazers, who still lack a viable frontcourt partner for Robert Covington in downsized lineups.

Green is an adequate defender of bigger wings; can switch onto quicker ball handlers without getting abused every possession; and is dynamic enough offensively to spot-up on the weakside, pop to the arc for quick-hitting threes and even make plays as a roll man. He's grown fully comfortable doing big-man grunt work like setting random flare screens and helping his teammates as a backline deterrent at the rim, too.

The Nets might be deciding between Griffin and Green this summer, with the latter likely having a leg up on returning. Green is a perfect fit in Brooklyn. Still, Olshey should definitely pick up the phone and gauge his interest in the Blazers regardless.

1. Otto Porter

Porter is reportedly seeking a new deal worth the full mid-level exception in free agency, but that's likely too rich for a guy who hasn't played a full season since 2017-18. The taxpayer's mid-level exception seems like fair value for Porter, though, a borderline elite spot-up shooter with the length and experience to theoretically check multiple positions.

Porter was never a stopper even in his pre-injury heyday with the Washington Wizards. He's at least a half step slower now, and hasn't put on the weight that makes you confident he could bang with the league's bigger star wings. But even if he's just a serviceable defender, Porter's sweet shooting stroke and ability to get to his jumper over the top of smaller players off the dribble makes him an extremely intriguing target for Portland with the mini mid-level.

If Batum can go from the fringes of the league to an indispensable two-way cog for a contender, why can't Porter? Health is his biggest obstacle, of course, and it's hardly encouraging that Porter's longtime back issues weren't what limited him to just three games with the Orlando Magic last season after the trade deadline. 

Porter just turned 28, though. If his back and left foot cooperate, no one would be surprised to see him re-emerge as a key rotation player going forward—hopefully in Portland.

READ MORE: Forecasting Futures of the Blazers' Incumbent Free Agents