With the NBA Free Agency rush past and the luxury tax looming, the Portland Trail Blazers are likely done making moves ahead of the 2018-19 season. The team lost Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, and Shabazz Napier this month while adding Nik Stauskas, Seth Curry, and possibly fringe minutes from teenage guards Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons.
Portland’s roster has talent, albeit not enough to overtake the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets of the world. This group actually reminds me of the Blazers of the late eighties: an explosive scoring guard, some decent supporting pieces, and not much else. That Blazers group managed to trade Sam Bowie and a first round pick for Buck Williams, who proved to be the glue that they needed to make two runs to the NBA Finals.
Which got me thinking; is there a ‘Buck Williams’ type player available out there for the Blazers?
To be clear, this doesn’t need to be a power forward acquisition - though that is an area the Blazers could use an upgrade. But who could possibly be the missing piece for a team that is trying to reach the next level right now?
Is he available? Probably. Is he the right guy? I’m not so sure. Kevin Love gets a bad rap for sacrificing his play style in order to fit in with LeBron James in Cleveland, but he’s always been a fairly one-and-a-half-dimensional player. Now, it helps that those dimensions are 3-point shooting and rebounding, but Love doesn’t give you much on the defensive end. With the additions of Stauskas and Curry, and the subtraction of Davis, the Blazers are probably going to suffer a bit on defense as it is. A guy like Love leaves a few too many holes for my liking.
On the plus side, Love is one of the few bona fide All Stars in the NBA openly available right now. I would expect his numbers to rebound slightly, though not to Minnesota Timberwolves level, now that he’s not forced to camp in the corner while LeBron does his thing. But ultimately, the cost of acquiring Love doesn’t outweigh the lack of defense, repeated concussion concerns, and lack of noted locker room presence.
There aren’t any rumors about LaMarcus Aldridge leaving San Antonio yet, but once Kawhi Leonard finally gets moved, expect whispers regarding Aldridge’s departure to intensify. In addition to Leonard’s unavoidable trade (at some point), Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker have both signed with other franchises. Manu Ginobli has yet to announce a decision regarding his future, but he is widely expected to retire this summer.
That leaves Aldridge stuck in San Antonio. I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon starting a rebuild around whatever pieces Leonard brings back, the Spurs ask Aldridge if he would like to be moved.
A lot of Blazer fans feel...well... less than fond of Aldridge, but he would be fantastic for this current roster. He is still one of the elite mid-range scorers in the game, able to turn to either shoulder on both sides of the block. Add in his underrated defense, rebounding, and the fact that he is familiar with Portland’s system, and you have an ideal upgrade at the power forward slot.
Of course, Aldridge will be 33 when the season opens, and owed $72 million over the next three seasons, but there’s little reason to expect a drastic or immediate decline in his performance. If Blazer fans are able to set their hurt feelings aside, he would be a stellar power forward next to Jusuf Nurkic.
You can probably chalk Butler in the “wishful thinking” category, but there are rumors that he’s fed up with the relaxed personalities of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. With Butler we’re into high-risk/high-reward territory, but what a reward it could be. When healthy, Butler an elite two-way player, able to defend both guard positions in addition to small forward. Over his last four seasons, Butler has averaged 22 points, six rebounds, five assists, and nearly two steals per game on 46 percent shooting.
Butler makes just over $20 million next season, and then has a player option for the 2019-20 season. The Blazers would risk losing him for nothing. But teams in Portland’s position need to take big swings in order to compete. Everyone said that the Oklahoma City Thunder trading for Paul George was foolish, but they just convinced him to stay on a four year, max deal. Hypothetically, swapping Butler for CJ McCollum would achieve the roster balance that Blazer fans have been clamoring for.
Middleton has been brought up at Blazer’s Edge before, and with good reason. He is one of the underrated stars of the game. At 26 years old, Middleton averaged 20 points, five rebounds, four assists, and 1.5 steals last season. He can stroke the three-pointer, is able to switch on defense, and plays on a value contract.
For the Blazers to convince the Bucks to part with his services, they’d have to offer a significant rotation player and a young asset, while taking a contract like John Henson’s $10 million per year deal in return.
One way or another, Neil Olshey is going to have to get creative to upgrade this roster. Deals are out there. (Timofey Mozgov being traded three times in as many weeks shows that anything is possible.) If they want to get better fast, the Blazers are going to have to swing for the fences.
As the 1989 trade for Buck Williams showed, the right guy can make all the difference in the world. Who’s your ‘Buck Williams’ trade target? Let us know in the comments!