Trade season is upon us and the Trail Blazers are one of the most interesting teams to monitor at the deadline. Due to injuries and roster construction, Portland’s record is well below where they had hoped it would be at the midpoint of the year. Regardless of those obstacles, the return of Jusuf Nurkic and the continued presence of Damian Lillard could convince the Blazers to be aggressive in negotiations.
As buyers, the Blazers face stiff competition when addressing the needs they have with the assets they possess. Anyone with a pulse can recognize that Portland needs help at the forward spot. Spoiler: every NBA team, especially contenders, are in the market for versatile two-way wings. If forced to compete against other bidders, Portland’s list of assets present a mixed bag.
Outside of the expiring deals that belong to Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore, the Blazers have a full arsenal of first-round picks to go along with a handful of young players to entice trade partners. Of those young players, Anfernee Simons might be the most intriguing for potential suitors.
Before Simons helped his own stock with high-flying dunks and eye-popping one-on-one moves, it was Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey that set the bar for the Florida native’s value. Olshey described Simons as a player that is as gifted as anyone he’s ever drafted.
Locked into a rookie-scale contract and bursting with potential, it is easy to place Simons in the “off limits” category of trade discussions. Still, the sweet-shooting 20-year-old guard’s best days for the Blazers are down the road. That timeline brings obvious value for the Blazers’ long-term future, but it presents a tricky fit when considering the prime years of Damian Lillard’s career.
Outside of the prospective timeline, a conservative evaluation could conclude that Simons’ trade value is at its apex right now. The Athletic’s Seth Partnow detailed that assessment when looking at Simons’ upside (prior to joining The Athletic, Partnow served as the Bucks’ Director of Basketball Research).
Simons has shown flashes, but his archetype — bombs away ball-in-hands scoring guard without a ton of playmaking or defensive impact — has a fairly narrow route to being a positive overall contributor. They have to be so good as a scorer (think Lou Williams or pre-injuries Isaiah Thomas) that the odds are firmly against any given player reaching that level. Simons has shown some pop in this regard, but it’s a tough road to hoe.
Again, that is a conservative assessment of Simons’ value to the Blazers. Agree or disagree, it does raise questions about how Simons’ value is perceived by other teams. His youth combines with the organization’s glowing comments to establish a sturdy floor. If Simons ventures down the path outlined by Partnow, his value will undoubtedly diminish.
This is familiar ground for the Blazers. Portland is only a decade removed from the saga that played out with backup guard and rising-star Rudy Fernandez. The dashing Spaniard took Rip City and a league trending toward the three-point line by storm. Regardless of his place behind franchise linchpin Brandon Roy in the rotation, Fernandez was a frequent target of desire from opposing teams.
Fernandez’s burgeoning trade value and unclear path to the starting lineup did not deter the Blazers from rebuffing trade offers. Those offers intensified after Fernandez and his agent made it very clear that he wanted out of Portland. Still, the Blazers clung to his potential, appearing to hold out for a better deal.
The Knicks, Bulls, Celtics, Heat and Raptors were all rumored to have offered packages that included first-round picks or starting-caliber players. Fernandez was bursting with trade value...until he wasn’t. On top of a very public trade demand, Fernandez’s lack of defense and positional versatility was thoroughly exposed by the end of his tenure in Portland. The pre-Olshey Blazers eventually settled for a multi-team deal that sent out Fernandez and Andre Miller for all-time franchise heel Raymond Felton.
To be clear, I am not saying that Simons is on a path that leads to an ugly, prolonged trade demand. From all indications, Simons is a team-oriented player that is committed to working hard at improving his craft. I am also bullish on his ability to blossom into a modern lead guard.
Disclaimer aside, when you are looking at the years remaining on Lillard’s contract, an old adage should apply when evaluating players capable of contributing to a contending team: a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. If the Blazers are asked to include a young player and a draft asset in exchange for a starting-caliber forward on Lillard’s win-now arc beyond just this season, they should at least consider it.