The Portland Trail Blazers finally have assets. Yes, their first round pick inventory is somewhat compromised, given the franchise’s obligations to the Chicago Bulls: a protected first-rounder somewhere between 2023 and 2028. But the roster has been infused with valuable young-to-prime players that are almost certainly of interest to one or more of the other 29 teams.
Damian Lillard, Shaedon Sharpe, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons, Gary Payton II, Drew Eubanks, Trendon Watford and Jabari Walker offer at least one valuable skill. Oh, so does Jusuf Nurkic but whether his trade value is positive still remains to be seen.
Over the past nine months, the front office has been opportunistic and it’s been effective. But it needs to keep looking for ways to improve the team, with General Manager Joe Cronin himself admitting this roster wasn’t in win-now mode and was yet to push in all its chips.
Great, they’ve got loftier expectations, but pushing all your chips in shouldn’t mean recklessness. It shouldn’t mean giving away assets for perceived star players who might be past their primes, injury prone, too expensive or all of the above.
Over the past week, the Blazers have been suggested trade partners with the struggling Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers and their potentially available stars Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.
Let’s have a look at the two players who were named in the top 75 players of all time and the deals that have been proposed.
Top 75 Greatest Player
Years left on contract: 4 (including 2022-23) – $197 million
MVP: 1 (2014)
Finals MVP: 2 (2017, 2018)
All Star: 12 (2010-19, 2021, 2022)
All NBA: 6 (First), 4 (Second)
Championships: 2 (2017, 2018)
Scoring champion: 4 (2010-12, 2014)
Career averages: 27.2 points, 38% (3-point), 7.1 boards, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks
There’s no secret about Durant’s discontent in Brooklyn, but Kyrie Irving’s most recent controversial actions might push him back over the edge, prompting the two-time champion to reinstate the trade request he raised just before the opening of free agency.
Prompted by this likelihood, ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Bobby Marks added the Blazers to a list of ideal fits for the disenchanted star on the Lowe Post podcast this week, suggesting a deal involving Jerami Grant, Josh Hart, Shaedon Sharpe and two-to-three first rounders might work for both teams.
Now, despite suffering a torn Achilles in 2019, 34-year-old Durant is still one of the best players in the league, able to perform at both ends of the court, a lone beacon for the Nets thanks to his video game-like measurements and ability.
But, for what? I can understand including Grant in the deal, despite his early and effective impact on this rejuvenated Blazers squad. Grant plays the same position and is an expiring contract. Hart also has a Player Option he likely opts out of at the end of this season and is probably the Blazers’ most valuable and expendable trade chip this coming trade deadline, outside of those likely kept to represent the pinwheel.
Sharpe and the picks are the two biggest sticking points for me. We have no idea what the 19-year-old Canadian becomes. So far, he’s shown a truckload of potential, athleticism and natural ability. His floor is probably a career athletic wing that sticks in the league for the next 14 or 15 years.
But like his own leaping ability, his ceiling is through the roof. Sharpe has the ability to reach an All Star game or five, perhaps an All NBA team here and there. Heck, he could reach a similar stratosphere as Durant, three or four years from now. Please see the word “could” in that last sentence and remember it.
Sharpe has injected energy, anticipation and intrigue into Blazers fandom and while those three words aren’t winning anyone a title, it does open possibilities for the Blazers to improve without gutting its core too much.
As for the picks, the Blazers are relatively restricted when it comes to dealing first round picks, with the franchise owing the Chicago Bulls the next pick that does not land in the lottery. This obligation extends to the latter part of this decade.
The only way the Blazers could part with future picks is removing that lottery protection, gifting the Illinois franchise the pick next year regardless of how it finishes this season. But while Portland has started the 2022-23 season strong, it might be too early to think that it may not finish outside the playoffs five months from now.
My own personal suggestion can’t be executed until after January 15 but would see Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart and a first rounder offered for Durant and Nick Claxton. The latter would need to be included to fill the Nurkic-sized hole at the center position.
The Blazers would be giving up a more proven commodity and potential future All Star in Simons as well as the pick. While still effective, Nurkic serves as trade ballast for the Blazers to help match larger salaries.
You’re again dealing a potential-laden prospect in Simons and a future first rounder for a 34-year-old who may start to lose some of his impact over the next couple of years.
I guess if Durant was eight years younger, this would be a no-brainer. But if Durant was eight years younger, he probably wouldn’t be as available.
Los Angeles Lakers
Top 75 Greatest Player
Years left on contract: 3 (including 2022-23) – $121 million, including Player Option
Finals MVP: 0
All Star: 8 (2014-21)
All NBA: 4 (First),
All Defense: 2 (First), 2 (Second)
Championships: 1 (2020)
Career averages: 23.8 points, 30% (3-point), 10.2 boards, 2.3 assists, 1.3 assists, 2.3 blocks
The Lakers have become the laughing stock of the NBA. Paying two superstars in Davis and LeBron James, they’re stranded at the bottom of the Western Conference with no signs of improvement, even if they’re prepared to part with their 2027 and 2029 first round picks — unprotected.
Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard raised the Damian Lillard for Davis deal “straight up” on First Things First this week. For me, this one is far more insulting to the Blazers than the Durant discussion and honestly a pipe dream for Rob Pelinka and LeBron James. Why would a team sitting second in the conference trade its best player to the west’s cellar dweller?
Sure, there was certainly a time a few years ago where the Blazers would have jumped at a deal like this. But times change and Davis is a shell of his former self. Since winning the 2020 title, the 29-year-old has played a grand total of 86 games, barely able to stay on the court while also losing his ability to impact the game on either end of the floor. Yes, his 2021-22 numbers aren’t too dissimilar from his career averages but with the lack of talent outside he and James on this Lakers squad, you need those numbers to be much higher and much, much more efficient.
For those who haven’t watched a lot of Lakers basketball this season (lucky you), I challenge you to sit through a full game and prepare to be disappointed by the former Kentucky star’s impact.
Lillard, of course, is a little older and sat out the second half of last season. But aside from the abdominal issues and the recent, minor calf complaint, the six-time All Star has been as durable as they come.
Long story short, adding Kevin Durant might vault the Blazers into the contender category, but it places the franchise’s future in a precarious position, destroying its newfound depth and removing youthful talent and future draft assets.
Davis, on the other hand, is an even bigger no, especially for Lillard. I can’t even see another package that gets close to matching Davis’ gargantuan salary. He just raises far too many questions.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that Cronin shouldn’t push in all the franchise’s chips, but it shouldn’t be for a 34-year-old Kevin Durant or a broken Anthony Davis.