The Trail Blazers have held their ground after a series of injuries to amass a 15-10 record through the first 25 games of the season. The Blazers’ ability to stay afloat with CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic out of the lineup is certainly noteworthy, but there is still a chasm between coach Terry Stotts’ squad and the elite tier of the Western Conference. With the NBA trade deadline just over a month away, the Blazers will have an opportunity to tighten that gap with a trade.
Before looking at potential trades and available assets, it is important to ask the question: will the Blazers be buyers at the deadline? For the reasons listed above, you would assume that the answer is yes. Due to an increased playoff field and high-profile injuries, forecasting the Blazers’ pre-deadline mindset is much more perilous than it appears on paper.
Portland’s re-tooled starting lineup that featured Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Derrick Jones Jr, Robert Covington, and Jusuf Nurkic received just a 12-game audition before injuries began to mount. An aggressive approach at the deadline, without knowing what that group is capable of at full strength, could generate an adverse outcome. Imagine heading to the grocery store with an incomplete shopping list in search of ingredients for a dish that you haven’t decided on.
To be clear, a crystal-clear evaluation of that starting group is not needed to address a handful of needs. It is obvious that the Blazers’ defense still needs work and you can never have enough competent forwards in today’s NBA. Unfortunately for Portland, there will be several other teams in the market for the same type of player (this is why PJ Tucker is a hot commodity).
When it comes to the type of trade packages that the Blazers can put together, without altering the foundation of the Lillard-led roster, the options are relatively thin. Here is a look at a handful of players that the Blazers could toss into a pre-deadline package.
- Enes Kanter ($5.0 million): Kanter has the right salary figure and value to bolster a trade package from Portland’s end. But with Nurkic out and Kanter rebounding everything in sight, it is tough to imagine the Blazers’ lineup without him in it.
- Gary Trent Jr. ($1.6 million): Outside of Lillard, Trent’s current value might top the list of the Blazers’ available assets. Portland will have an opportunity to match any offer that the former Duke standout receives in the 2021 offseason. Including Trent in a potential deal might unlock attractive opportunities for the Blazers, but a patient approach might be the best way to navigate his future value (as long as you can avoid the Crabbe line).
- Anfernee Simons ($2.2 million): Add the appropriate grains of salt and then apply the same logic that I used for Trent (and push back restricted free agency).
- Nassir Little ($2.2 million): It is too early to gauge how much value Little has on the trade market. Remember, that is a two-way street for the Blazers and potential suitors.
- Carmelo Anthony ($2.5 million): Melo has upped his offensive production in the past two weeks and he possesses a de-facto no-trade clause heading into the deadline. For both of those reasons, it is unlikely that the Blazers move the future HOFer.
- Rodney Hood ($10.0 million): Hood is still working back from an achilles injury. The second year of his current contract contains a team option.
- Zach Collins ($5.4 million): It is tough to imagine that the former Gonzaga big fella possesses adequate trade value after extended injury absences.
- Harry Giles ($1.6 million): Giles has flashed his potential in Portland, but he is probably just salary filler at this point.
Outside of the players listed above, a draft-pick driven trade package presents its own set of pitfalls. After committing two first-round picks to the exchange that netted Covington, the Blazers’ draft cupboard is far from stocked. Looking ahead, this year’s first-round pick is likely headed to the Rockets and the Blazers can only bank on possessing a second-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft in the next four years.
Given this outlook, the Blazers might be listed as buyers in theory. But in reality, the buyout market might be the only avenue for Portland to bolster its depth prior to the postseason.