The Portland Trail Blazers sit in an interesting place in the NBA Western Conference. They’re too good, too young, and too promising to tank, not good enough to be considered serious contenders. The middle ground breeds plenty of suspense, but what about longevity? That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Years ago I remember you asking how many Blazers would be staying around for the long haul— like 4 or 5 years from now. I’m curious as to what you think now of that same question?
Michael in Vegas
Vegas, huh? Nice town! I want my money back.
It has been a while since we asked that question, mostly because the team has either been so stable that the answer looked fairly assured (not so much, as it turns out) or was so deep in flux as to make the exercise ridiculous. The middle ground they inhabit now makes the question relevant again.
Let’s pick five years out for our target date, as contract issues come into play, adding a level of interest. I have no magic crystal ball, but if I had to bet, I’d say the chances run like this.
Nearly Guaranteed to Stay
Jusuf Nurkic: He’s going to sign an expensive extension that takes his contract into the target year. He might play up to it and put himself beyond the reach of trades; he might fall short and prove difficult to move. Either way, if Nurk goes it probably means the whole team is getting dismantled.
One or the Other of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum: Both are in the “untouchable” category right now. Even if the bloom wilts over the next half-decade, it’s hard to imagine both of them being traded. They could both walk for greener pastures at the end of their current contracts, leading to an immediate and total rebuild. But chances are if anybody moves, it’ll be because the backcourt is untenable together, not because the Blazers want to part with them or they want to leave Portland. One stays, one goes...who knows which?
Extremely Likely to Stay
Zach Collins: The Blazers are high on him and his rookie-scale contract will carry him through 2022 if they so desire. He’ll need time to develop. They won’t know what they’ve got until his third or fourth year. Unless the Blazers get a new General Manager (or need Collins in the Deal of the Century), Zach’s probably here for the long haul.
The Other of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum: In 2017, it’s hard to envision any future in which the Blazers don’t do everything possible to make both their starting guards stay. Five years is an eternity, but it’d be irresponsible to rank either player lower than this, given their talent and the current climate.
Likely to Stay
Nobody stands out enough to inhabit this level.
Caleb Swanigan: Portland’s other rookie forward will need to prove his game translates to the NBA and that he can claim a long-term spot alongside Collins. Until then there’s no reason to bank on him long-term. There’s no reason to rush to judgment either.
Likely to Leave
Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman: None are significant enough yet that you’d forecast a long-term future with any NBA team.
Al-Farouq Aminu: He’s playing on a dirt-cheap, $7 million contract over each of the next two seasons. If he’s willing to continue that after 2019, keeping him would be an easy call for the Blazers. Chances are he’ll want more. Once his price tag goes up, the Blazers might start to see what he lacks instead of riding the currently-affordable bonus of what he brings.
Extremely Likely to Leave
Moe Harkless: His contract runs through 2020, topping out at $11.5 million in the final year. That’s not unreasonable for a mid-minutes player, but the Blazers and Harkless have yet to settle on a firm role. With three $20 million contracts on the books by that point, Portland probably won’t be keen on spending for anyone they’re not dead sure of. They may not be sanguine about paying $11.5 million for his lame duck, 2019-20 season, even.
Meyers Leonard: Fans are down on him now but Leonard has the advantage of being a 7’1” player with range, which might recommend his $11 million contract a little higher than that of Harkless. Still, odds are the Blazers will trade him because they won’t want to re-sign him in 2020.
Nearly Guaranteed to Leave
Evan Turner: No matter how much the Blazers like him, Turner will make between $17-18.6 million per year in each of the next three years. They have to try and move him. But even if they can’t find a trade, the chances of them re-signing him in 2020 without a substantial pay cut are virtually zero.
Ed Davis: His contract expires next summer and Portland’s not using him. They’d probably like to trade him before the end of the season to sink below the luxury tax threshold.
Noah Vonleh: Vonleh is still on his rookie deal through 2019, making less than $5 million per. He hasn’t shown enough to merit paying him more than that, which makes an extension a long shot. No matter how often the “best player available” mantra gets repeated, Portland drafting two power forwards in the first round this year does not bode well for Vonleh’s future with the franchise.
How would you categorize the current Blazers? Who’s most and least likely to be with the team in five years? Let us know below and keep the questions coming to email@example.com!
—Dave @blazersedge / @davedeckard / firstname.lastname@example.org