Kevin Durant with a ruptured Achilles, out for the season. Klay Thompson, blown ACL, likely recovery 8-12 months. Kawhi Leonard, NBA champion, believed to be headed to Los Angeles. Anthony Davis, long rumored to be moved to Los Angeles. The Houston Rockets, many believe they will look very different on opening day. The Utah Jazz are believed to be in pursuit of either Mike Conley or D’Angelo Russell.
Basically...the Western Conference is insane right now.
The Portland Trail Blazers, model of consistency, look to make minor improvements.
Depending on where you fall, that’s either great news or terrifying. If you’re the former, you might believe that reloading and swapping out Seth Curry and Enes Kanter for a couple of hungry (read: cheap) veterans, bringing back Al-Farouq Aminu and a little magic here or there and voila—a contender for a deep playoff run yet again!
If you’re the latter, you enjoyed the Western Conference Finals run but now you’re looking at 33% of the total minutes from the team last year as free agents. Those now free agents made up 11% of the payroll but accounted for a third of the time played—and this organization is supposed to go out there and just replicate that sort of magic and not only hold steady but possibly improve? Hard yikes. Oh, their rock in the middle—Jusuf Nurkic—isn’t expected back until around February. Woof.
The thing is here, no matter where you fall, changes are a coming. Guys that covered a third of the total minutes are not all coming back. Some of that will go to guys already here: Anfernee Simons steps up in the case of Seth Curry, and Zach Collins most likely slides in as the starting four, but then who slides in behind them?
Collins most likely ends up pulling double duty, possibly starting at the 4 then sliding to the 5 after Meyers Leonard goes for his first break. Realistically, Leonard is by far the best option to start the season as the Blazers’ starting center with the roster as-is. At this point, that means Skal Labissiere is getting real minutes as a fill in 4/5, much the same way Collins did this year.
As we at Blazer’s Edge have outlined quite extensively, the CBA limitations are there: the salary is what it is and only fine tuning on the edges will create more room. The next option is to open it up and make a deal of consequence. That doesn’t mean trading McCollum, but it does mean putting a lot on the table and having to take a risk. The players out there that have been linked to the Blazers are pretty well known, but let’s take a minute and go through a couple feasible options—players the Blazers have been linked to in one sense or another—and what it may cost to get them.
Otto Porter Jr.
The Blazers made an offer at the deadline last year that was competitive with what the Chicago Bulls offered. The Washington Wizards opted to go with the Bulls’ offer and Porter Jr. got to leave basketball purgatory and show off his skillset a bit more in Chicago. Porter, a 6’9” wing who has shot 40% from distance in his career, is a plus defender and has the ability to take an opponent off the bounce. Save defense, these are all things that have been missing for quite some time.
Porter Jr. has 2 years left on his deal, the 2nd being a player option for $28.5 million. If you’re making a move for him, you’re basically locking yourself in financially. If Portland made this move and was able to retain Lillard, McCollum, AND Nurkic they would have nearly $104 million invested in those four guys alone come 2020-21.
Porter Jr. addresses a lot of Portland’s needs. He can shoot, he can defend multiple positions, you can’t disregard him entirely on offense, he’s rangy and athletic. In the ridiculously small sample size in Chicago (which let’s be honest, that’s a serious caveat) OPJ shot 48/48/90 in 15 games. Being free from John Wall AND being more involved in the offense seemed to bring out the best in him. Pairing him up with Lillard would be a godsend.
Does Chicago see itself as a player in the 20-21 free agency? If so, Portland may be able to grab Porter Jr. a bit cheaper by offering expiring deals plus a pick, but Chicago probably wants to wet their beak a bit more. But trying to find that piece is a bit harder here as Portland doesn’t really have any of those in-between salaries. To facilitate a deal, it probably takes a third team.
The second round pick out of Tennessee has turned into a possible gem for the Miami Heat. Save that. He IS the gem of the Miami Heat. A do-it-all, 6-foot-six-inch combo wing who is just as likely to take you off the bounce and knock down a three, he’ll take on the opponent’s best perimeter player and make him work all night. He’s 25 years old and his contract is (*squints*).... (squints again* *shakes head in disbelief*)...he’s making roughly $30 million over the next 3 years. He’s likely the best non-rookie deal currently in the NBA.
There’s no catch. He’s good. Nearly perfect fit. If I’m nit-picking, maybe a bit small for a full time 3. Did I mention he’s only making $10 million a year?
He’s gotten better every year. He’d be Portland’s premier defender. He straddles the timelines of the Blazers, both the Lillard-era and the hopeful Simons-era. Can fill nearly every ask of a Portland wing to a tee. I mean, it’s too perfect.
Told you it was too perfect. Miami knows they have a gem and they aren’t looking to move him, even in this complete fire sale the Heat are looking at. The likely cost is McCollum or Collins, depending on what Miami is looking for in return. It’s likely a lateral move, or less perhaps, but it does give you someone who could likely give you 70% of McCollum at 40% of the cost. That’s a hard move to sell for a team that just made the Conference Finals, even if the returns are that efficient.
There are certainly others out there; Aaron Gordon, Kevin Love, Bogdan Bogdanovic, etc. Players that fit a particular mold that the Blazers are after. Don’t get it twisted: Portland has called about Anthony Davis, they just don’t have the ammo for the fight. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t stop trying to get better and make savvy moves beyond fringe deals.
The Toronto Raptors traded a lot of capital to get an NBA title—not just for Kawhi Leonard but for most of the contributors on the title team—is Portland willing and ready to do the same?