Run down the remaining Trail Blazers trade assets

The Portland Trail Blazers made their fans cringe and smile (if that’s possible) at the same time with the selection of Scoot Henderson last Thursday NBA Draft.

I’m still trying to rationalize how that works, especially if the Blazers keep Damian Lillard and try to contend with another inexperienced point guard on the roster. I try to convince myself that even though Henderson is only 19, Henderson has spent two years playing against grown men, showing skills that could one day earn him All-NBA status.

Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin provided several notable insights into the team’s rationale during his post-draft press conference. First, he plans to keep both point guards, second, there were no concerns about Lillard leaving, and third, his front office will be busy free agency and dealing.

There is still a lot of movement to be had. We have to do a good job in free agency and on the trade market, especially in this window of activity for the next two, three weeks.

We have sown a lot of seeds on some offers. Many of these offers we talked about outside of three. They were not necessarily trait-related. Sometimes these deals will continue until tomorrow. Could be next week, could be outside the moratorium.

The “seeds planted” line is particularly interesting. I think back to the Jerami Grant trade 12 months ago, a transaction that was first discussed four months earlier on 2022 NBA trade deadline. The optimist in me tries to convince the skeptical side that Cronin has a plan and has shown a tenacity in following through on negotiations that have yielded fruitful results in the past.

If the Blazers are serious about building a contender and adding real veterans, trades will be the only way. If you remove Henderson and Lillard, what assets does Cronin have left to get a trade done?

If there are any future first-round picks inserted into deals in the coming days, Cronin needs to alleviate the franchise’s obligations to the Chicago Bulls. We have discussed what might be needed in such negotiations in previous posts. They need Chicago to accept alternative compensation to trade the pick back to Portland, freeing up future picks for trade.

As for players, the Blazers could offer 10 possible players — assuming the newly drafted rookies stay in Portland next season:

Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Shaedon Sharpe, Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson, Kevin Knox, Jabari Walker, Kris Murray and Ryan Rupert.

It has already been reported that Sharpe is untouchable. While young guys – namely Watford, Johnson, Knox, Walker and the rookie trio – don’t earn enough to bring anything back of significance and are likely to be viewed as throwaways in any major deal if moved.

Anfernee Simons

On Thursday, the Blazers upgraded from a host to an abundance of talented guards — Lillard, Simons, Sharpe and Henderson. To avoid a minute of crunch in the backcourt, someone has to go. By process of elimination, Simons would be the odd one out.

For months, we’ve said Simons’ remaining three-year, $78 million contract is this team’s most lucrative negotiable contract. After this draft, he is even more useless.

To me, when Cronin says “we planted a lot of seeds on some deals. They weren’t necessarily move-related”, my mind immediately goes to Simons as an inclusion in said transaction.

His $24.1 million next season would almost certainly be the money that brings back an entry-level player at a position of need, which would be anywhere other than guard.

Jusuf Nurkic

Henderson makes the Blazers younger and more athletic. Can they really afford the poor Bosnian to continue to follow his teammates up and down the pitch when Henderson and Sharpe do their thing?

I was surprised by the size of Nurkic’s deal last July. Now, his remaining three years and $54 million ($16.8 million next season), combined with Simons’ $24.1 million, seem the most likely pieces to bring back anyone making more than $35 million.

Simons would be more interesting to said team, but Nurkic helps get them there financially if the returning player’s deal is a bit more gigantic. [ed. He’d also help ease the pain for Portland’s trade partner if the Blazers were bringing in a center.]

Nassir Lille

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported earlier this week that the Cleveland Cavaliers had discussed Little’s availability with the Blazers. Little’s four-year, $28 million extension is one of the more team-friendly deals available, provided he stays healthy.

At 23, Little has shown enough to suggest that if he can get his body right, he can contribute to winning in multiple facets. You would hope that if they are inserted in a trade, the Blazers are able to bring back a rotation player who can contribute sooner rather than later.

Young guys

The Blazers added Henderson, Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert to a roster that was already too young to contend. They keep a quartet of Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson, Kevin Knox and Jabari Walker on the bench. Having them all back seems far-fetched.

Of the quartet, Watford and Walker seem most likely to stay. Watford made real contributions from the bench last season. He has a high basketball IQ and can facilitate and handle in spurts. Walker has the opportunity to make a sophomore jump next season. Like Watford, he has decent basketball smarts and a proven drive to compete and rebound.

Johnson’s 2023-24 team option has already been picked up, and the Blazers have until next Thursday to decide on Knox. If they are not included in offers in the next few days, I would suggest Johnson be waived and Knox’s option declined.


If Damian Lillard and Scoot Henderson are going to co-exist in that one ecosystem — and that’s a big if — then Cronin and the Blazers have their work cut out for them over the next few weeks.

Two sub-6’4 guards is a problem we’ve faced before. And now it’s a little more dire, as the backcourt quagmire may actually block Henderson’s early development.

If the Blazers try to contend, then the Simons of Lillard, Simons, Sharpe and the Henderson group must be on their way out, but how and where remains to be seen.

Whether the Blazers add veterans or go young, Nurkic is also unlikely to be around next season. And Little might be the piece that gets a certain deal done.

Cronin promised that the 2023-24 incarnation of the Blazers would be more experienced. And if you still believe him, then it’s likely that at least a few of the young guys are gone.

The next two weeks will be fascinating for the Blazers and Lillard watchers like Cronin and co. try to deliver on all the promises they have made over the last 18 months.

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