Uncovering the good, the bad and the weird.
The Portland Trail Blazers are reportedly active in the 2023 NBA trade market, dangling the third overall pick in 2023. 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 Thursday’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 in the ether subtly, like a dog passing gas in a mini-van. Regardless, here are our fairly reasonable guesses about the potential of each player in Portland.
Today we will cover the less attractive prospects. Tomorrow we’ll dive into the deals that might have a ghost of a chance to work.
I’m not sure where this came from, but apparently there’s a proposal for the third pick for Kristaps Porzingis out there. If you took a million Neil Olsheys and locked them in a room for a million years, you could hardly come up with a worse exchange. Porzingis is not a breakthrough defender. Don’t let these blocks fool you. His per-36 last year matched Jusuf Nurkic’s career average, and Nurk isn’t exactly known as a shot-blocking intimidator. Porzingis is in the final year of a $36 million contract, meaning the Blazers would have to shell out other salary to bring him in AND they wouldn’t be sure he stayed. He might be worth a look at a lower price, but the third pick for him would be insane.
Unlike Porzingis, Zach LaVine is under contract through 2026 or 2027, depending on his affinity for a player option in the final year. His salary ranges between $40 and $49 million during that span. That’s not terrible for a 28-year-old two-time All-Star who scores 25 per game. But that’s what LaVine does: score 25 per game. The Blazers already have Anfernee Simons, who is almost at that level. LaVine is clearly a more skilled player and scorer, but Simons will not take the ball from Lillard or create a culture clash. LaVine doesn’t play defense either. Either Brandon Miller or Scot Henderson would have a far better chance of boosting the Blazers to the next level than LaVine would. This deal could make sense if the Blazers dealt Lillard. Otherwise, no.
Karl-Anthony Towns was once coveted as a unique, multi-faceted, athletic scoring center. He had the potential to be a generational star at his position, especially since the NBA has lacked big-time big men for most of the last decade. Eight seasons in, Towns plays power forward, drifts outside with his shot selection, is slowed by injuries and shows little sign of backing up his four All-Star appearances with a memorable career. He’s still capable of putting up offensive numbers, but no defense, no inspiration, and no wins for his team make him a bad move for Portland, as they need all of those things and more. Add in Towns’ max-max contract and this deal becomes a pile for the Blazers.
As much as the Blazers would like to be Ariana Grande on the market (“I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it”), the third pick and your second-best player only has so much buying power. A few of the names proposed for Portland are likely over their credit limit.
Mikal Bridges and Bam Adebayo
Mikal Bridges and Bam Adebayo stand out on Portland’s wish list. Both are young, defensively capable and great scorers. They are the next generation of stars, if not superstars.
This is precisely why their established teams are committed to keeping them. That Brooklyn Nets and Miami heat playing Moe Greene vs. Michael Corleone with the Blazers. “You don’t buy me out, I buy YOU out.” Each team comes to the table convinced they can talk the other out of their prized player, committed not to let that happen to them. The most likely outcome is a stalemate with both sides shaking their heads.
OG Anunoby is not on par with Bridges and Adebayo. Apparently Toronto Raptors think he is. That’s a problem for the Blazers, who would probably like to get him for less than four first-rounders plus Simons.
Anunoby only makes $18.5 million, making him far more accessible than most on this list. However, his contract does not expire until next season. The Blazers would need a guarantee that he would re-sign. If he doesn’t do it with Toronto, would he do it with Portland? That complication, plus the exorbitant asking price, probably makes this a no-go.
To be clear: If the Blazers could actually complete one of these acquisitions at a reasonable price, more power to them! It just doesn’t seem like a realistic expectation at this point.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George has been rumored to be in play for the third pick. He’s making a whopping $45 million next season, so it’s hard to see how the economics would work in that kind of trade. He also has a player option next year, making this a big speculation for Portland.
At age 32, George still put up 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 56 games last season. It was his high-water mark for games played since 2018-19. That’s one red flag. The Clippers’ disappointing performance despite George is another. He’s still a great skill fit. He’s not the defensive game-changer he was back in 2019, when he was 28 and a perennial All-Star.
This trade would have been perfect four years ago. At this point it reeks of desperation. If the Blazers got two good years out of it, they would do well. However, the next Paul George is reportedly sitting at the #3 position in the draft. And he came much cheaper.
Tomorrow: Deals that might actually work out for the Blazers and their trade partners.