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Which Center Should the Trail Blazers Trade For?

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Of all the options, only one is affordable, desirable, and achievable.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Media Day Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the Portland Trail Blazers off to a mediocre start to the season, no topic is swirling faster than trade speculation. Surprise, surprise...that’s the topic of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag! If you’ve got Blazers-related questions, send them to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to get to them. For now, take a look at this one from long-time reader Devon.

Dave,

Big name centers seem to suddenly be available. I want to know which ones you want and which ones are realistic for us to get. Dreaming of Cousins fondly or would Hassan be better? Vooch? Also a lot of these guys seem to be getting benched. Would it be worth the risk if they were a chemistry problem and might cause the Blazers to lose? Chemistry is such an important part of this team right now. Is the magic mix center out there?

Devon

DeMarcus Cousins is the best center with trade whispers surrounding him and there’s no close second. Having said that, Portland fans can forget it. A Cousins trade has been rumored for so long that it’s become a standing joke. Up to this point the Sacramento Kings have shown more desire to build around him than to move him. Even if his soon-to-be-expiring contract forces them into a deal to avoid being LaMarcus Aldridged, other teams are camping around this trade like World of Warcraft players after the Time-Lost Proto Drake. As soon as the Kings make a peep about shopping him, they’ll have a half-dozen offers. Not all of them will be sterling but chances are a couple will be better than the Trail Blazers could offer, especially since Portland lacks high draft picks to deal. If the Blazers want Cousins they’re going to have to start with an offer of Damian Lillard. Even if you want to chew on the advisability of that, Portland’s front office won’t.

Hassan Whiteside deserves a mention for a few reasons:

  1. The Blazers wanted him last summer. Once on Portland’s radar, players seem to stay there.
  2. He got pulled in the third quarter of Miami’s recent game against Cleveland, with Coach Erik Spoelstra saying, “This league is for competitors only. It’s great competitive matchups every single night. We have a lot of guys out, so that’s a big responsibility for him. He’s starting to understand what that actually means.”
  3. If the Heat became disenchanted with him, a package centering around CJ McCollum might be enough to draw interest.
  4. He’s darn good.

Pulling a player for motivation is a long way from trading that player. I don’t see the Heat moving Whiteside without a much longer look. They had him first and they knew what they were getting when they re-signed him to a huge contract. They’re not giving up on him easily. If Miami did make Whiteside available, other teams would be nearly as interested in him as they are in Cousins, making Portland’s odds long.

We talked about Nikola Vucevic on a recent podcast. Unlike Whiteside, he’s really, truly, honest-to-goodness benched. The Magic are going nowhere, slowly with him in tow. The Blazers wouldn’t have to lose a starting guard to get him. He wouldn’t solve any of Portland’s defensive problems but he’d rebound and provide more offensive variety than the Blazers have currently. Any trade would walk a fine line; both Portland and Orlando could end up over the luxury tax threshold as a result.

If the Blazers were going to go that direction, however, why wouldn’t they sniff around Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets? His contract will expire in 2018, so he has a little bit of Cousins “forced trade” mojo going. He’s a better offensive player than Vucevic, though nowhere near the rebounder. Portland’s defense would qualify the Moda Center as an EPA Superfund site and they probably couldn’t get Lopez without including McCollum, but they might as well try.

As I mentioned in an even more recent podcast, I’d be willing to give Nikola Mirotic a look too. The Blazers have also been linked to other power forwards. Greg Monroe, anyone? It’s worth noting that upgrading at four may be as practical as trading for a center.

And speaking of...since it’s almost Christmas, we ought to sing Noel...as in Nerlens. The Philadelphia 76’ers have ample and obvious reason to trade their disgruntled third big man, just returning from surgery. The Blazers have all kinds of incentive to take a flyer on a 21-year-old potential starting power forward/center. Philly is below the cap and can absorb salary in an imbalanced trade. Noel is not the ultimate answer at center or power forward the way Whiteside, Cousins, and to a lesser extent Lopez would be, but neither would the Blazers have to pay the price those other three would demand. Both sides would consider a deal as value added in exchange for surplus goods.

As far as chemistry, the Blazers should have zero concerns if they can net a valuable, talented big. Talent without maturity has a chance to grow. Great chemistry without sufficient talent will not win. If you can net a difference-maker, you don’t blink. Make the deal and worry about how everybody gets along later. If Portland’s culture isn’t strong enough to absorb, withstand, or reform one questionable apple, it’s too fragile.

In the end, chemistry won’t be nearly as big of a question as whether the Blazers can actually acquire any of these players. The cream of the crop are out of reach. If they have to make a compromise deal, Noel is clearly the best combination of potential and cost, so that’s the answer I’m going with.

HEY...Christmas is coming. Want to make the day (or even year) of an underprivileged child or two in the Portland area? Help 2000+ such kids watch the Blazers play the Philadelphia 76’ers on March 9th! It’s guaranteed to bring as much joy as whatever you’re going to ask Santa to bring you. Here’s how to contribute.

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @blazersedge / @DaveDeckard