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Trail Blazers Trade Analysis: Cavaliers Draft Picks and Paul Millsap

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The Blazers are swapping picks with Cleveland and could be “sniffing around” Millsap. What are the benefits and drawbacks?

Phoenix Suns v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Last night the Portland Trail Blazers were linked with a pair of trade rumors, one definite and one wholly speculative. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers will shift a 2018 first-round pick that Cleveland owes to Portland to 2017, in essence trading the future pick for this year’s version. Meanwhile Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders intimated that the Blazers could be “sniffing around” a deal for Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap. Let’s break down both of these potential exchanges.

Blazers Trade 2018 First-Round Pick from the Cavaliers for a 2017 First-Rounder

This is a fairly simple swap. Reports indicate that the Cavaliers need a first-round pick to consummate a trade for Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver. Because they owe their 2018 first-round pick to the Blazers, they’re running afoul of the Stepien Rule which prohibits making any deal that would leave a team without first-round picks in consecutive seasons. Since they can’t guarantee they’ll have a first-rounder in 2018, they cannot offer Atlanta their 2017, 2018 (obviously), or 2019 pick. The soonest they’ll be able to pay off is 2020, an eternity for both teams. Atlanta likely won’t want to wait that long and who knows where Cleveland will be in 2020, and thus how valuable that future pick could become?

Because the 2018 conveyance could not be more inconvenient for the Cavaliers at this point, it makes sense for them to call Portland and say, “Hey, can you trade us back that 2018 pick if we give you this year’s instead?”

The deal also makes sense for Portland. With the Blazers under-performing, Neil Olshey needs assets and trade chips now. An extra pick will offer more options for Portland in this year’s draft. Absent playoff misses and lucky ping-pong balls, the Blazers currently project somewhere in the 10-18 range in the selection order. If they want to move up, they’ll need a carrot. A later pick in the same draft is more of an enticement than a future pick would be.

Aside from that, this can be considered a friendly, “Good Citizen” move. There’s no reason for the Blazers to turn down an earlier pick and they do another team a minor favor in doing so. Nothing wrong with that.

Blazers “Sniffing Around” Atlanta’s Paul Millsap

The Blazers should be sniffing around any frontcourt player with talent. Millsap qualifies. He’s a multi-range scoring threat who can also rebound and defend solidly. He’s a veteran with 8 trips to the playoffs and 81 playoff games under his belt. He fits Portland’s needs.

A Millsap deal also has a couple sticking points:

  • He’s 31, headed quickly to 32.
  • He makes $20 million this year with a player option for $21 million next season.
  • Stars are NEVER traded cheap.

Add those together and the team acquiring him will be all but forced to bow to whatever salary demands he makes. Knowing this, he has plenty of incentive to opt out of the option year and ask for a lucrative, long-term deal. In the process he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. That’s not pleasant, especially when multiple teams will have salary cap space available this summer. He’ll hold all the cards; the team that trades for him will be hoping he’s loyal and worth the money they’ll need to throw at him.

All of these points become severe negatives for the Trail Blazers. With their core hovering around 25-26 years of age, they don’t necessarily need a 32-year-old unless that player puts them in clear and instant contention. They wouldn’t mind spending money for Millsap long term but the idea of him being able to walk after four months would bring about severe LaMarcus Aldridge flashbacks.

Could the Blazers offer Atlanta a package that would entice the Hawks but minimize Portland’s risk? Atlanta’s request would probably start with CJ McCollum, a proposal the Blazers would presumably turn down flat. Names in play for Portland could include Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, and Mason Plumlee. The Blazers would have to offer at least two of those players in the correct salary combination, three if Crabbe and his $18.5 million salary weren’t involved. Portland could also offer draft picks.

If the Hawks would consider 2-3 of the above-listed players as adequate compensation and the Blazers had confidence (HA!) that Millsap would remain with the team long-term, the deal would be worth looking into. Best guess is that neither of those conditions will be met, at least not solidly enough to justify leaning into this rumor. Millsap is a good player—exponentially better than the Blazers have in their frontcourt currently—but unless the price is cheap, neither his age nor his talent are worth the risk the Blazers would have to weather to get him.

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