Things got crazy for the Trail Blazers over the last 24 hours! News first broke that they were reportedly interested in Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. The trade rumor was followed by a heartbreaking three-point loss to the Nuggets, and then ESPN’s Chris Haynes revealed that Damian Lillard had met with Paul Allen to discuss the long-term direction of the team.
Combine those developments with a Feb. 8 trade deadline, and it seems almost certain Blazers general manager Neil Olshey will be making a lot of phone calls over the next two weeks. Here’s a breakdown of the likelihood that each Blazer will be moved:
Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh — One of These Two Is Gone
The Blazers are currently about $3 million over the luxury tax threshold. Both Davis and Vonleh are on expiring contracts, and with Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan waiting in the wings it seems unlikely that the Blazers will pay to keep all four big men.
Shedding either Davis or Vonleh for a second round pick would bring them under the cap, pending any additional moves, and guarantee the Blazers will receive a tax payout from the league without affecting the roster’s long-term trajectory. From an on-court perspective, they both share similar roles and Vonleh could probably take Davis’ spot in the rotation without losing much. And, in reality, the difference between having Vonleh or Davis in the rotation isn’t going to make or break any playoff aspirations.
Some may wonder whether the Olshey and Allen will make a purely cost-cutting move, but they already traded Allen Crabbe and then stretched Andrew Nicholson to save a few million this summer. The team barely made it into the black last season, and Allen apparently wants to stay there.
Shabazz Napier and Jusuf Nurkic — Sell High Candidates
I wouldn’t have classified Nurkic as a sell high candidate 24 hours ago, but news that the Blazers are making calls about DeAndre Jordan strongly implies that the team is considering moving Nurkic.
It’s unclear if Nurkic’s inconsistency — is it an effort problem, a mental problem, or simply a skill limitation? — or the style of play the Blazers are forced into with Nurkic is the primary motivator here. He has been seemingly benched at least twice for lapses in focus, and analysts have suggested that the lumbering big man of days past will continue to lose utility. Either way, the Blazers appear willing to search for an upgrade at center, rather than deal with negotiating Nurkic’s next contract this summer.
Similarly, unless Paul Allen is prepared to open his wallet for a third undersized guard, the Blazers may need to consider selling high on Napier immediately. If another team sees him as a possible starting point guard he could bring back a draft pick or other long term asset.
This decision will be particularly painful for the Blazers, but the alternative is losing Napier in free agency for nothing. He highlights the conundrum the Blazers have with their upside down roster of overpaid fringe rotation players, and several integral players up for free agency. They must decide now whether or not they are willing to match any offer Napier gets or act accordingly.
Pat Connaughton, Caleb Swanigan — Part of a Larger Deal?
Connaughton will be a restricted free agent when his breakout 2017-18 campaign ends. Fortunately, most teams will probably be hesitant to make a major offer to a player with a limited track record, and the Blazers are in desperate need of shooters, so it seems likely that he’ll be in Portland next season. Connaughton could be part of a throw-in trade, but he won’t bring a lot back on his own so he’s probably staying put.
Similarly, Swanigan has little value outside of Portland and is on a favorable contract. The Blazers will not be inclined to trade him for peanuts, gambling that he will develop into a rotation player.
Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Meyers Leonard — Portland’s Going to Have to Give Up a Pick to Get Rid of Them
Thousands of words have been written about these three so I won’t belabor the point. Their contracts are albatrosses and the Blazers will have to send out additional assets to get someone to take them. They could be part of a larger deal for salary purposes, but that will require the Blazers to part with an additional pick or more.
Zach Collins, Al-Farouq Aminu — Staying Put
Olshey has suggested that he sees great potential in Collins and Aminu is, arguably, the only veteran actually outplaying his contract right now. With Portland’s salary situation, they are both more valuable to the Blazers as players than anything they would bring back in trade. Neither is going anywhere, short of a true blockbuster deal. And if Collins is involved it’s probably for an all-star.
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum - Not Going Anywhere
We may need to revisit the viability of trading during the offseason, but the Blazers aren’t ready to break up their backcourt just quite yet.