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With NBA Trade Rumors Swirling, Do the Trail Blazers Need a New Center?

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Several seven-footers are rumored available. Which would suit the Blazers best?

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Trade Season is upon us, with trade rumors coming faster that Santa’s sleigh and credit card bills. This year, speculation revolves around a crop of players who usually aren’t up for bid: centers. Almost every big-name center in the league has been rumored on the trading block in the last month, some for legitimate reasons and others more speculatively. The Portland Trail Blazers have been linked with many of those centers in theory. They’re not likely to be closing any deals in practice, but that doesn’t stop people from dreaming. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

How much credibility do you give the rumors of Marc Gasol getting traded, and I’ve even heard Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins? Do you really think they’ll move? And it seems like every trade has a Portland possibility to it? How likely is Portland to be the destination for a big center deal like that?

Polly

The likelihood that one of those centers gets traded is reasonably high. The pivot position has been devalued somewhat in the modern NBA. Talented seven-footers will ALWAYS be valuable. They’re a unique commodity. But they’re no longer tabbed as automatic franchise saviors and they’re not deemed untouchable the way they were in the 1990’s. Therefore the raft of rumors about centers from under-performing teams is unsurprising.

The chances of any given trade happening, let alone several involving players at the same position, is small. No matter how a team is performing, no matter how disgruntled the player, it’s hard to let go of a guy you spent a high lottery pick on. At one point the franchise valued these players highly. That doesn’t change overnight, nor does the hope of fulfillment ebb until the last instant. You’re not going to see New Orleans cavalierly dangling Anthony Davis, nor the Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s not a neutral situation, an average trade. Moves like that change the course of a franchise for a decade. They also get GM’s fired if mishandled. The collective smoke pouring off the supposed center bonanza is probably concealing a flame the size of a tea light.

Of the major centers rumored to be up for grabs, Marc Gasol is one of the more promising candidates. He’s 33 years old, reportedly unhappy, and owed $72 million dollars between now and the summer of 2020 (assuming he picks up his player option). If the Memphis Grizzlies aren’t going anywhere with their current lineup, moving Gasol would be one of the keys to rebuilding.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers has been rumored available since before the season started. He’s only 29, but he’s got a player option next year. Provided someone will pay him $24 million or more, he has a free ticket out of L.A. if he wishes by declining that option. The Clippers may want to get ahead of the curve, earning compensation for him while they still can.

I’d judge those two star centers far more available than their younger counterparts. Towns is still on his rookie contract. Minnesota would be insane to trade him for anything less than overwhelming talent. Davis just signed an extension that pays him like a prince, but he’s also 24 and has the potential to be the best big man in the league...maybe the best player overall someday.

Cousins is a wildcard, playing out the last year of his current deal, earning $18 million. He’ll want more next season, but he’s playing well for the Pelicans. They wouldn’t gain any cap space by letting him go. Nor would other teams be smart to trade a ton for him at this point, half because of his impending free agency and half because of, you know...Boogie.

The Blazers could potentially make a run at any of these players, depending on what they’re willing to dangle. If you’re imagining some kind of deal that leaves the Big 3 intact, forget it. If Portland wants to include Jusuf Nurkic or CJ McCollum, teams would probably listen.

The first question to ask is whether the Blazers have their dream center already. Nurkic hasn’t overwhelmed this season, but he’s only 23 and his potential is untapped. Even with the modest start, he’s producing points and rebounds.

Assuming salaries could be matched—a dangerous assumption given the low value of most of Portland’s roster—the Grizzlies and Clippers would have to look hard at a Nurkic-based deal for the age factor and probable cost savings alone. Portland would be getting a more accomplished center, but renting them for a far shorter time. If they feel their ceiling is high enough, accelerating the growth curve could make sense.

The Blazers don’t have the assets to start dreaming about Davis or KAT. They could probably get Cousins for the right offer, but unless New Orleans is convinced that he won’t stay at the end of the year and are ready to take anything for him, that offer would probably have to include CJ McCollum. Meanwhile the Blazers would inherit the uncertainty about Cousins staying with them, plus all of his instability. He could become a powerful boost or spell the end of the franchise in this era, and there’s no way to tell which. That would argue against the move.

I don’t see any realistic scenario in which the Blazers agree with any of these teams on a suitable deal. If age gap didn’t foil the process, the salary cap would. This will make a fun thought exercise, though. Let’s pretend for a moment that all of these centers are available and that the teams would listen to offers from Portland. Which of the following options would appeal to you most?

  • Trade Nurkic to Memphis for Gasol, with Portland sending extra contracts out to fit the deal under cap rules.
  • Trade Nurkic to the Clippers for Jordan under similar circumstances, probably with a pick needing to go to L.A. as well and you can’t just dump bad talent on them.
  • Trade McCollum to New Orleans for Cousins.
  • Trade McCollum, Nurkic, and picks from here to eternity in a bid to get Towns from Minnesota or Davis from New Orleans (understanding there’s almost no chance of either, but you’re throwing the farm at them). Substitute in Damian Lillard if you want to go that far.
  • Just keep Nurkic. He’s the man.

Obviously these are just skeletons of deals, not fully-formulated trade machine material. Which appeals to you most on the surface and why?

As you’re pondering, keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com or @davedeckard on Twitter. ALSO...

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