That Portland Trail Blazers rumored to be active on the 2023 NBA trade market, which ties in with the 2023 third overall pick NBA Draft, shooting guard Anfernee Simons and other assets to try to land a big fish to swim next to seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard. Blazer’s Edge Mailbag has been overwhelmed with questions about the possibility and suitability of Portland’s supposed target in this year’s trade circus. Even those inquiries could not cover the scope of players the Blazers have been linked to.
As we reset before tomorrow’s draft — with its potential for early trade plan news — we’ll rank the big players swirling around Portland in the media circus. Some of these have come from national sources, others local. A few have appeared more subtly, like the third percussionist in your favorite touring band who suddenly takes a solo with his Peruvian shaker beads. Regardless, here are our fairly reasonable guesses about the potential of each player in Portland.
Yesterday we covered less attractive trade rumors. Today we’ll dive into the deals that may have a ghost of a chance to work.
The Great Swing
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is the hot name on everyone’s lips at the moment. Years from now someone will find this article archived and either say “HA HA!” or “DOH!” There’s no middle ground with the 6’6, only-the-weight-knows-what-he-weighs-today big man. It’s the ultimate boom-or-bust move.
The “miss” comes from 26 points per game on 61% shooting from the field, and he doesn’t even have to try that hard to get it. Williamson has a preternatural combination of strength, bulk and athleticism that makes him impossible to handle for anyone south of prime-year Shaq. Zion was Victor Wembanyama in the 2019 NBA Draft. For those counting, that was only four years ago. He turns 23 in a few weeks.
The “bust” comes from Williamson not being able to stay on the floor. A combination of weight, bad luck and the strain on his body of his playing style have conspired to keep him out of 214 out of 328 potential games in his career thus far. New Orleans maxed him ($33.5-$44.2 million per year from now through 2028) because they had no other practical choice. The decision proved controversial among league analysts, showing just how far Zion’s stock has fallen.
Williamson has more potential to change the course of the franchise – up to and including a championship – than any other player the Blazers could reasonably acquire. If the Pelicans are willing to trade him with the third overall pick for the center, that would indicate they don’t think there’s a ghost of a chance he can actually do it. New Orleans simply wanted to offload their Zion problem on Portland. It would be up to the Blazers and Williamson to prove them wrong.
Experts are still debating whether this move is realistic. Paradoxically, the more likely it is, the less the Blazers should want it. Portland must hope that New Orleans misunderstands the situation or that Williamson becomes a different, but still ultra-efficient, player as he ages. Otherwise, the Blazers buy a chance to experience Greg-Oden-like disappointment again. That’s how Damian Lillard got into this league. It would be a sad way to send him off.
The decorated veteran
Toronto Raptors big Pascal Siakam is among the most talked about targets for the Blazers this year. Toronto may be looking to rebuild after their slow slide from championship greatness in 2019 and may therefore be willing to move him.
Siakam was a key part of that run and has blossomed since, scoring 24.3 points per game. game with 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists in an All-Star season last year. He’s not a world-class three-point shooter, but almost everything else about his game—including defense—is excellent.
Normally, that would make him an automatic team for the Raptors. But he is 29 years old. They already have forwards Scottie Barnes and forwards OG Anunoby in the rotation. They just signed Jakob Poeltl to play center. Siakam may no longer be critical of their plans. Or, more specifically, they might value rookie sensation Scoot Henderson and additional young compensation from Portland more highly than an aging star forward whose contract expires at the end of next season anyway.
The Blazers are in the opposite position and want immediate help for star Damian Lillard. They would be hard-pressed to do better than Siakam, at least on paper. He has defense, durability and championship experience… exactly the qualities they need.
Siakam would leave a short window, but it’s not a fatal flaw given their timeline. He would cause trouble with forward Jerami Grant, and there’s the messy issue of the expiring contract. If the Blazers could work out those wrinkles, Siakam would be a great pick.
The young stars
Two young stars have been mentioned in connection with Portland … players-in-waiting with more experience than Henderson or Brandon Miller would bring, but still plenty of upside potential that the 30-year-old lacks.
Deandre Ayton from Phoenix Suns is reportedly on the trading block after several years of ups and downs. He scored 18.0 points per game last season and added 10.0 rebounds. His defense is a work in progress, but he has enough room to grow.
Right now, Ayton’s expectations are measured against the first overall pick the Suns spent on him in the 2018 NBA Draft. He has not lived up to the hopes and hype. It matters to the team that selects him, not at all to what trades for him. Being in the second position, Portland may have interest.
Ayton would have more freedom to flourish in Portland than he has in Phoenix’s packed lineup. On the other hand, he had a chance to contribute to a championship contender in Phoenix and couldn’t help them over the hump, even in a minor role. It is not promising. Henderson — the main player the Blazers would trade for Ayton — might be the better player overall. He is both younger and cheaper.
Portland would also switch to a position that is hard to get right in today’s league. Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are to modern NBA centers what “mother” is to an infant. The world is divided into two categories: them and everyone else. The Blazers could end up with the 4th or 5th best center in the league. That kind of upgrade would look good on most nights, but they could still end up getting outplayed in the playoffs every year.
Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram has also been mentioned in place of Williamson in Portland deals. The 26-year-old forward averaged 24.7 points while shooting 48.4% from the field, 39.0% from the three-point arc last season. He also had 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He would provide another scorer and shot creator alongside Lillard, balancing the starting lineup from its current guard-heavy configuration.
However, Ingram only played in 45 games last year. He made just 55 appearances the season before. In the six seasons since his rookie campaign, Ingram’s high-water mark has been 62 games. He has missed a lot of time for a young guy.
Ingram’s defense is suspect. He was once labeled as a player who just didn’t care about that end of the floor. He has evolved from these gruesome depths of horror, but he is still half-responsible. Not exactly what Portland is looking for.
Neither Ayton nor Ingram would be as bankable as Siakam, but both would find chances to shine in Portland that they lacked elsewhere. If the Blazers think either has another gear, these young stars would fill holes in the lineup in fine style.
The safety game
So far, we’ve mentioned trades involving the third pick and an opposing star as the centerpieces, suggesting that Portland would move out of the draft (or at least out of the lottery) entirely. Moving down is also an option, splitting the difference by acquiring a good veteran and a promising rookie.
If the Blazers wanted to explore this option, Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers would be a good candidate. Indiana owns the 7th pick in the draft. Portland might trade 3 for 7 and ask for Turner as compensation, and probably throw in Jusuf Nurkic to make the payroll work.
Turner is a better defender than Nurk, more athletic and the same age. He averaged 18.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last year, shooting 54.8% from the field. He wouldn’t single-handedly turn Portland’s fortunes around, but he would give them a platform to stand on while they did it. Add in the chance to draft Jarace Walker or Jalen Hood-Schifino, and you can see the Blazers opening up future deals for even more help.
It’s hard to say exactly what options will open up, but if any of the above plays are available, the Blazers should at least think about them. Home run swing or bunt the runner in scoring position, they are looking to advance in the offseason. One way or another, it’s going to happen.
The biggest question is, would Scoot Henderson – now their presumptive choice – do more for them than any of the above deals, let alone the less desirable ones we covered yesterday?
Remember the mantra we keep repeating: assets don’t just disappear. If Henderson plays like he should, he’ll also be marketable six months, a year or two from now. The Blazers don’t have to bite on a suboptimal deal just because it’s happening today. They can decide to see what they have in Scoot and then make their decision from a position of more certainty later. Aside from Williamson and perhaps Siakam, they may find similar options to the above trade proposal down the road.
If they’re going to make a move now, Portland’s first decision is whether they think Zion Williamson is worth the risk. If they do, no one else can compare.
If they skip Williamson, Siakam is the next best bet. If Toronto doesn’t want to let go of Pascal, then a trade for Turner and a lottery rookie might be better than going all-in on a flawed younger star.
Overall, though, it feels like only Williamson and Siakam cross that “better than Scoot (at least right now)” threshold. The Blazers will have to walk a fine line in their trade negotiations and make sure their acquisitions right now don’t cost them exorbitant interest later.