Yesterday we gave a big thumbs down to Bill Simmons' suggestion that the Portland Trail Blazers trade guard CJ McCollum for Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. You can read the reasoning, and the ensuing argument, here.
At the end of that post we promised to throw out a McCollum trade suggestion that was more worthy of consideration. Here it is.
After talking to people in Philadelphia and on the national stage, it appears that rumors of the 76'ers discontent with Jahlil Okafor have the ring of truth. No specific trade is likely and the Sixers seem less likely to drop Okafor now than they might have been last month, but there's enough smoke to posit that trading him is a live option. To a person, those pundits and analysts--including our friends at SBNation sister site Liberty Ballers--have said that a straight McCollum for Okafor deal would be valid and should be considered.
Instead of hearing just one person's take on this potential deal, we opened the floor to the Blazer's Edge staff. Their reflections are varied and, as is to be expected, contrary to each other. You can read their thoughts and get a feel for the complexity of the issue, then weigh in yourself in the comments.
McCollum for Okafor? Here's what we think.
The "trade CJ" discussion hinges on a key question: Can the Blazers compete for a championship if McCollum and Lillard are the team's two best players? The two have played exceedingly well together this season, but it is reasonable to ask whether or not committing $45+ million in salary to two defensively challenged guards with overlapping offensive skills is a good strategy. History is not on Portland's side - the last team that made the Finals with two guards as their top players was the 1992 Blazers, and the last team to win a championship by featuring two guards was the 1990 Detroit Pistons.
But is Okafor a good enough player to justify parting with McCollum? That is a tough question to answer. When Bill Simmons suggested last week the Blazers would benefit from trading McCollum for Cleveland's Kevin Love many Blazers fans disagreed, arguing that swapping a defensive liability at guard for a defensive liability at forward is, at best, a lateral move. Additionally, Love has played long enough that it's unlikely he will ever become even an average defender, whereas McCollum could still improve significantly on that end.
Like Love, Okafor has struggled to defend stretch power forwards on the perimeter, but like McCollum he is young enough and has the physical ability to become a plus defender over time. He has already shown some defensive potential around the rim and against bigger centers. Xylon Dmoff of Hoop76 provides a breakdown:
He's allowing opponents to convert just 47.5 percent of shots against him at the rim, which ... is on par with alleged defensive studs such as Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Clint Capela, Nerlens Noel. That may be in part because Okafor has held his own down low. Nobody has defended a higher volume of attempts in the post than Jah this season, who has allowed 48.4 percent shooting on such looks... Okafor may not have the vertical lift of a Hassan Whiteside or Andre Drummond, but he uses his combination of a stocky build and 7-5 wingspan to shut down the paint. Jahlil is already a prodigy when it comes to the ever-so-glamorous art of bodying post behemoths and keeping those hands up.
With those skills Okafor would almost immediately become Portland's best low post defender, and has the body to become the rim protector the Blazers desperately need in the long term. Does McCollum have the potential to become an above average defender on the perimeter? If Olshey decides he doesn't, then it might be wise to consider this trade.
While any defensive benefit of swapping Okafor for McCollum is purely hypothetical, the Blazers salary cap situation would be objectively improved by the trade. McCollum is in his third season and will be eligible for a costly salary raise after next season. As a rookie, Okafor is locked in to a high value, low salary contract until July 2019. As outlined in this article, rookie deals are disproportionately valuable because of the spiking salary cap. Okafor's smaller salary would give Olshey two additional seasons with a cheap (hopefully) all-star level player. Okafor is set to make roughly $5 million and $6.3 million in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. It will almost certainly cost in excess of $20 million annually to keep McCollum on the roster during that same time frame. Salary cap implications change the question from, "Should the Blazers trade McCollum for Okafor?" to,"Should the Blazers trade McCollum for Okafor and an extra $15 million in salary cap space for two years?"
I should preface this with: "I am not a writer". I'm just a basketball fan, but an EDUCATED basketball fan. I love the McCollum for Okafor topic. It has merit, and Dave is correct in throwing it out there. I have just a couple of problems with the proposed trade:
1). Neil Olshey is NOT going to trade CJ for Okafor, the late great Pete Maravich, Kareem, Hakeem, or anybody else. CJ was Neil Olshey's pick, and he's proven an excellent pick. Olshey can go on any interview right now and bask in the "we knew CJ would develop into a potential all-star" glory all. For a GM that's a cool thing. Well done Neil.
2). We now have.. not the Splash Brothers, but "McLillard". No way does Damian Lillard green light a McCollum trade, and rightfully so, He has a comfort Bro in the back court, and I think that matters to Damian. They are Brothers-in-Arms and they have earned that comfort zone. (I like "McLillard" cause I made that up.)
David MacKay (@DavidMacKayNBA):
I would not want to make this deal, but you almost have to. Centers like Okafor are hard to come by. We like to look at McCollum and say "He scores 20 points per game," but Okafor is not far from doing that too—and he rebounds and he protects the rim and he’s four years younger and he’ll be cheaper longer and, and, and, and, and... I personally think Lillard and McCollum can coexist better than is often suggested—especially as McCollum continues to develop—but there comes a point where you have to assess what you do not have. Right now that is a post player that can defend at a high level… or score at a high level, for that matter.
Consider also—and I hate to do this—that Okafor was projected as a top-2 pick (although taken third) in a strong draft class for a reason. He is further from the player he is going to be than McCollum is, and both are currently exceptional. Does anyone think Okafor will not be as good at 24 years old as McCollum is right now? That will be the 2019-20 season, when he’s owed about as much as Portland is paying Al-Farouq Aminu at the moment… That’s the kind of extreme talent and financial flexibility that greases the wheels of contenders.
#HotTake or whatever.
Well, here's the thing. Jahlil Okafor is one of those players that you'd be a fool to NOT take a chance on. Sure, there's a small possibility he'll flop, but he screams "high level of play over a long career", and he's only 20 years old. I could even make a case that a change of scenery might be nice for him as a person as well. Sure he's young, but he looks like he could grow into that high-level player quickly, so his age difference with Damian Lillard shouldn't come into play too heavily.
So really, when you think about it, there's clearly only one acceptable answer...
WE GOT ONE OF THE STEALS OF THE 2013 NBA DRAFT (LOL CLEVELAND BTW). HE CAN ALREADY BREAK DOWN A DEFENSE AND CREATE SPACE FOR HIS SHOT, AND HE HASN'T EVEN FIGURED OUT HOW TO DRAW FOULS YET. AND HE LOVES IT HERE AND IS CLOSE TO DAMIAN. I DON'T CARE IF IT'S IRRATIONAL BUT HE'S OURS AND YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM.
Now bugger off.
Dave Deckard (@davedeckard)
The rest of the staff made most of the points I was going to, but I'll address a couple issues they didn't.
CJ McCollum instantly becomes a model member of any franchise while Jahlil Okafor has already had several questionable incidents as a rookie. We have to acknowledge that the exchange is nowhere near equal in that aspect. But those considerations don't necessarily weigh as much as they once did.
The Blazers already have the perfect poster boy in Damian Lillard. They also have an incredibly strong locker room and can absorb an interesting character more than most teams could. Nothing that happens in Philadelphia right now is indicative. They're such an outlier they might as well play on another planet. If I joined a team with zero chance of winning, zero plans for the future, and limited capacity to use me effectively, I'd probably go crazy too. That doesn't absolve Okafor. He may bring trouble with him everywhere he goes. But a half year with the Sixers does not constitute conclusive proof.
Acquiring Okafor would settle several marginal frontcourt players into more defined roles and make others expendable. Clarity would give the Blazers a path forward, providing direction for further trades and potential draft picks. Instead of needing just about any kind of player taller than 6'6", Portland could build on a Lillard-Allen Crabbe backcourt with Okafor in the middle, concentrating on adding scoring wings and stretch forwards.
The rare combination of events that make Okafor available at all demand that this trade be considered (not necessarily executed) immediately, not someday. The Sixers are historically bad. They've stockpiled young big players like no other team ever has. They've just experienced a dramatic change in management and will be looking to chart a new course. Okafor has rubbed them the wrong way. Seeing a 17 point, 7 rebound center (potentially) available in the same year he was drafted 3rd overall is unprecedented. All of these conditions are likely to change. Okafor may never again be as available as he is right now. For that reason alone, the Blazers need to look hard at this deal.
Having said all that, the only thing I'm dead sure of when it comes to this proposal is that Timmay should be made Portland's General Manager immediately so he can end trade proposition phone calls with, "Bugger off, Danny Ainge!" and, "Bugger off, Daryl Morey!" I'd pay good money to hear that.
Now that we've had our say, what's your take on McCollum for Okafor? Share in the comment section. The staff will reflect along with you.
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