The 2018 NBA trade deadline has come and gone. While the final days leading up to the deadline were uneventful, Thursday saw a flurry of moves shortly before the 12 pm PT cut-off. When the dust settled, Isaiah Thomas ended up with the Lakers, Dwayne Wade was once again a member of the Heat, George Hill and Rodney Hood were headed to Cleveland, and, perhaps most surprising, DeAndre Jordan and Tyreke Evans stayed put. The week prior to the deadline also featured two major deals, with Nikola Mirotic being dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans and Blake Griffin ending up in Motown with the Detroit Pistons. But it was an ancillary piece to the Griffin deal that should have caught the Portland Trail Blazers attention. Of all the players that changed hands Tobias Harris would have been the most sensible acquisition.
As it turned out, the 25-year-old small forward out of the University of Tennessee fell into the package the Los Angeles Clippers scooped up for Blake Griffin, along with Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and two draft picks. Harris is having a career year, averaging 18 points and five rebounds a game through 50 games, 48 coming with the Pistons. The production is nothing new, as Harris has averaged at least 15 points a game since being traded to the Pistons from Orlando in 2016, and he averaged 17 points in one of his two full seasons with the Magic.
Harris’ biggest problem to this point in his young career has been finding a consistent home. In only four of his seven seasons has he finished the year with the same team he started it on. Could the Trail Blazers have made a play for him? It seems likely, given the frequency he has been traded to this point. Of all the players traded at this years deadline, he also would have made the most sense to land in Portland. Why? Portland lacks a clear starting small forward moving forward.
While $70 Million Dollar Man Evan Turner has performed decently at times in the starting lineup, he has spent the majority of his NBA career as a back-up, often in a sixth man type role. Even an underwhelming Turner has performed better than the man he replaced in the starting lineup, Moe Harkless. In fact, many nights, Harkless isn’t even in coach Terry Stotts’ rotation. Clearly there is a need for a player of Harris’ caliber on the Blazers.
Harris is a proven, consistent scorer, something you can’t say about and of the players he’d be supplanting in Portland’s rotation. In addition to averaging a career high in points, the first round pick from 2011 shot an excellent 40.9% from three with Detroit this season, up over 4% from his previous career high. He shot 45% through 48 games with the Pistons, averaging almost 15 shots a game, several more than he has averaged the previous couple seasons. He averaged a career high 48% from the field last season.
The big question, of course, is what the Blazers would have given up to acquire Harris. It’s difficult to say, given that he was only part of the package sent to the Clippers for Griffin. Acquiring Griffin himself would have almost certainly cost either CJ McCollum or Damian Lillard, but that isn’t necessarily the case for Harris. He is making $16 million this season, and is set to make $14.8 million next season, before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
Portland has a sizable trade exception (thanks to the Allen Crabbe trade) that will expire this summer. Because you cannot combine a trade exception with another player, they would likely have had to acquire Harris for draft picks. Considering the Blazers are unlikely to be at the lottery level, would this be enough for the Pistons to warrant trading such an emerging talent? It’s tough to say. The Griffin trade and subsequent move for Jameer Nelson paint the Pistons in win-now mode. Trading a player of Harris’ caliber for future assets may not have fit their overall plan.
As it stands, the Blazers did little at the deadline, trading Noah Vonleh to the Bulls in order to clear enough space to avoid the luxury tax. The fan base was left mostly disappointed, hoping for a splashier move. Instead the team will have to try to get better through the draft or free agency. With little money to spend, the latter will likely be easier said than done. The Blazers will have some decisions to make soon regarding the team’s future. Acquiring a player like Tobias Harris would have made that future a lot brighter, if a bit more expensive.
If you could have grabbed any player who changed in the last two weeks and plopped them on Portland’s roster, considering trade cost and cap cost in your decision, who would you have chosen? Can you make a better argument for someone besides Harris? Name them and tell us why.