The Portland Trail Blazers were expected to get off to a shaky start in the 2019-20 season. New players and tweaks to the system drained the continuity they’ve shared over the last three seasons. Injuries have robbed the roster of its normal rotations, along with any pretense of full effectiveness. Hovering near .500 a month into the season is still making people nervous, though. We covered this extensively in the Blazer’s Edge Podcast this week, but we’re going to spill over today into the Mailbag as well.
CJ McCollum is slumping to start the season again. Is it time to finally pull the trigger on a deal? How long, o great one? How long?
Give me your dream realistic scenario to get us out of this mess. It seems evident that we aren’t going to contend. As you keep mentioning we have expiring contracts too. Construct the best moves to get us where we need to be!
I have zero concerns about McCollum in the abstract. He’s a great scorer. His mid-range game is billionaire money. No matter how much you draw on it, it’s never going away. Suggesting that the Blazers trade CJ because of a rough start is a little loopy, in my opinion.
There are still reasons to move him. The development of Anfernee Simons is one. Simons is nowhere near the player McCollum is, but you can see him getting closer. The Blazers also have sneaky shooting guard depth. It’s presumed that if they keep CJ, they’ll lose Rodney Hood and Kent Bazemore. What if that’s not the best route?
Let’s build on some speculative summer fun. Let’s say for giggles that Hassan Whiteside, Nassir Little, and a bunch of draft picks could snag Blake Griffin from salary-dumping Detroit (provided they falter this year). This gives the Blazers a nice lineup of Lillard, McCollium, Griffin, Jusuf Nurkic, and small forward. They still aren’t at full strength yet, though. Nurkic will need to re-adapt to the court; Zach Collins will still be recovering.
The real benefit from Griffin’s extended contract would show over the next two seasons. Over the summer, Draymond Green’s salary increases dramatically. He’s still well below CJ-level, but the Blazers might be able to get under the umbrella of a multi-team deal netting Green by sending CJ out. (McCollum would look pretty good in a Miami Heat uniform, by the way.)
Obviously Griffin and Green are headed toward the downside of their careers. They’ll never be what they once were. But the Blazers wouldn’t get that much older in the exchange. McCollum will be 29 next year, the forwards 31. They’re still stars, and the Blazers only need to force the championship window open for a couple years anyway.
If the Blazers managed this kind of spectacular double-deal, they would then pray Rodney Hood wouldn’t opt out of his contract. They could also re-sign Kent Bazemore via Bird Rights.
This team costs a bloody fortune. As Eric Griffith detailed yesterday, salaries and cap penalties could reach $200 million. They already field the most expensive team in the league and will almost certainly pay tax on a non-contender. Which is worse, paying big money team that has no realistic shot to win a title or spending more, but actually being able to fight for rings?
Look at the potential depth chart after these prospective deals:
PG: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons
SG: Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore
SF: Draymond Green, Bazemore
PF: Blake Griffin, Zach Collins
C: Jusuf Nurkic, Collins
That eight-man rotation is as solid and talented as any in the league. Throw in Skal Labissiere and the roster rounds out into good shape. It’s reminiscent of the early 1990’s NBA Finals rosters with a starting five of Drexler, Porter, Kersey, Williams, and Duckworth, with Cliff Robinson and Danny Ainge coming off the bench playing multiple positions. They lack CJ McCollum, but they’ve more than made up for it at other positions. They’re not too shabby at shooting guard either!
It’s unlikely the Blazers will be able to pull of one, let alone both, of these moves. But if you’re asking me the gold standard of manageable trades, you’ve now seen it.
P.S. If you can get me Khris Middleton at small forward, I like that even better. That’s harder though, even with CJ in the mix.
P.P.S. If you have mailbag questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org!
P.P.P.S. Don’t forget to help us send a couple thousand kids to see the Blazers play the Minnesota Timberwolves in March (and maybe pick up a cool pair of socks besides)!