The NBA’s trade season unofficially started this weekend, when many of the free agents signed over the summer became trade eligible. The annual mid-season trade cascade likely won’t start until February, but let’s take a moment to consider the tradeability of all the Portland Trail Blazers players anyway.
Negative Value Players
Negative value means general manager Neil Olshey and the Blazers would have to attach a draft pick or take back a similarly bad contract to get rid of a player — it doesn’t mean a player can’t be traded, just that on their own they’ll only net another player perceived as negative value (e.g. Hassan Whiteside for Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless).
Gary Trent and Mario Hezonja: These two are essentially minimum salary players but have a second year left on their contracts. Given that neither has proven himself worthy of a rotation spot, opposing teams will likely ask for other players as filler.
Kent Bazemore and Hassan Whiteside: Bazemore and Whiteside are negative value in the sense that their large, expiring contracts aren’t useful as trade chips in a vacuum. But, as we’ve discussed at length, they can be packaged with some of the players listed below to acquire another player on a larger contract.
Their solo status as negative value, however, is a reminder that any Bazemore or Whiteside-centric package will likely only yield a player who is perceived as overpaid or underachieving by his incumbent team. Neither will be the center of a deal for a baggage-free All-star or blue chip prospect.
Neutral Value Players
Neutral value suggests the player would be useful as salary filler or a random lottery ticket in a larger trade but teams generally wouldn’t be interesting in acquiring him on his own merit/salary.
Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere: Minimum/low salary trade filler.
Nassir Little: Rookie deal is appealing but nearly every team in the NBA had a chance to snag him this summer and passed. It’s unlikely he’d be worth more than a second rounder or similarly low-profile prospect.
More valuable to the Blazers than another team
CJ McCollum: McCollum’s weaknesses have been well discussed. Perhaps most damning is that he hasn’t really improved since signing his de facto max contract in 2016 and nine-figure extension this summer. He’s likely paid too much to be of interest as a third semi-star on a contender so a probable landing spot might be a non-contender who’s looking to continue selling tickets while also chasing lottery balls. The problem is that such a team may not be willing to give up high-upside prospects to snag McCollum. CJ certainly has positive value around the league, but the incongruity with his salary and skill level makes me think any trade package centered on McCollum would underwhelm Olshey and the Blazers, so the most likely outcome is that he will remain untraded.
Positive Value “Players”
Positive value means other teams would send the Blazers valuable players or draft picks to acquire that player.
Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons: Collins is likely more valuable than Simons given that he has shown more NBA potential, but Simons has one more year left on his rookie salary than Collins. They wouldn’t have huge standalone value around the league, but would play a positive role in a larger trade package.
Jusuf Nurkic: In contrast to McCollum, Nurkic is only making $11 million and played very well the year AFTER signing a major deal. The Bosnian Beast’s trade value is presumably sky high right now, even after breaking his leg.
Damian Lillard: The Blazers aren’t trading him unless he asks for a trade, but he’d be worth a lot on the open market.
Future draft picks: We all know teams love these.
Can’t be traded
Rodney Hood: He has a de facto no trade clause.
Carmelo Anthony: Anthony signed less than three months before the trade deadline so he can’t be traded this season.
The Blazers have several serviceable players on the roster but only Nurkic, Lillard, Collins, and Simons are likely to have positive trade value. And Nurkic and Lillard are, obviously, unlikely to be traded.
The dissonance between McCollum’s skill level and his contract limit the ability to use CJ to net an all-star in return. The one unconsidered element is what kind of value a Nurkic and McCollum package might have — essentially their incongruent contracts would offset. That’s a nuclear option so it’s unlikely to happen unless something dramatic changes, but it is a level of flexibility that’s rarely mentioned.
Overall, a trade is certainly possible, but if the Blazers want a needlemover it will be a complex deal packaging at least one positive asset with other players and expiring contracts. Given the quality of Portland’s tradeable players, any major deals will likely be gambles involving a player who has underperformed as a poor fit on an opposing team and has potential for a change of scenery bump in Portland.