The Trail Blazers are on the cusp of claiming homecourt advantage in the Western Conference with a 16-10 record. As the season progresses, Portland’s roster is due for a boost in the form of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic’s return to the lineup. Outside of that duo, the Blazers possess the potential to bolster their depth by making a move at the trade deadline.
With that in mind, we asked a trio of contributors to highlight a trade and buyout target for the weeks ahead.
Steve Dewald: I’m going to travel on the unsurprising route and focus on the frontcourt for a potential trade. That said, I am going to go with an unfamiliar name: Khem Birch. The 28-year-old Magic big man isn’t the flashiest player on the market, but he is consistent and his contract ($3 million) is right in Portland’s wheelhouse for this deadline. So far this year, Birch is averaging 6.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. If Orlando turns its focus to Mo Bamba down the stretch of a forgettable season, Birch could become available. Known for his commitment to the little things (screens and rebounds), Birch fits the bill of a stealthy addition.
Adrian Bernecich: If you’d asked me this question a month ago, I would have said go get a point guard to back up Damian Lillard, but Anfernee Simons seems to be holding his own. The obvious name is John Collins, but knowing Neil Olshey, we are looking at changes around the margins. Mo Bamba seems like the stereotypical Olshey reclamation project. A giant of a human being, a true 7-footer with a 7-foot-9 wingspan, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft can do a little of everything. Unfortunately, like a number of Orlando Magic first rounders before him, the 22-year-old big fella might not have been given the chance to properly develop. Earning $5.9 million this year, it wouldn’t take much to match salary. Once in the Blazers’ lineup, Bamba would be given time to find his feet, sharing backup center minutes with Harry Giles until Jusuf Nurkic returns. But, outside of this, there’s a chance that the Blazers could land one of their favorite trade targets: cash considerations.
Marlow Ferguson Jr.: We’ve seen a similar movie before, how about PJ Tucker? The Blazers have to be feeling the pressure of keeping a title window open in Damian Lillard’s prime, and dealing for Tucker smells like a “win-now” move, or at least a move in that direction. Tucker is in the last year of a four-year, $32 million deal, and he would be off the books as a unrestricted free agent after the year. It’s unclear how much faith Terry Stotts would have in playing Nassir Little or CJ Elleby down the stretch of the season. Tucker is a trustworthy option. The Blazers could have swingmen of their own available at the deadline. If they can flip them for a steady 3-point shooter with the defensive versatility that Tucker has, why not go all-in on a move like this?
Marlow: I partially wonder how comfortable Portland is mortgaging their Playoff aspirations on Jusuf Nurkic’s health. He’s played in just 92 of 182 games over the last three seasons, and he’s missed basically two postseasons. Enes Kanter’s the ultimate fallback, and Harry Giles is playable in spot minutes when healthy. But, I’d try for one more proven reinforcement. LaMarcus Aldridge would be my top-shelf buyout option, but Ed Davis or Robin Lopez could be fun. Aldridge seems like he has something in the tank for the right situation. He’s just two calendar years removed from an All-Star Game appearance. The Spurs’ youth movement isn’t ideal for his play style or career arc. At 35, a buyout could put him in one more high-profile situation prior to retirement.
Steve: Tucked behind the curtain of the Pistons’ 7-win start to the season is veteran wing Wayne Ellington. Anchored to Detroit’s cap sheet by a modest $2.5 million, Ellington could find himself on the open market shortly after the deadline. The 33-year-old wing is shooting a stellar 44.5 percent from beyond the arc this season. During his time with the Heat, Ellington flirted with minutes at small forward. The Blazers would need him to return to that form in order for a potential pickup to make sense. In the end, it is tough to argue with proven floor spacing, especially with Enes Kanter set to re-join the second unit after Jusuf Nurkic returns to the rotation.
Adrian: Nemanja Bjelica. That poor man is buried at the end of the bench on a below-par Sacramento Kings team. And his $7.1 million expiring deal seems like a prime candidate for a buyout. Monte McNair set that man free! The big-bodied Serbian can shoot, well maybe not this year, but over the past three seasons he has put up averages of 41 percent, 40 percent and 41 percent from behind the arc. While he’s not an elite defender, he’s not a sieve. Bjelica, 32, is a four that can play minutes at the five in a pinch. That could relieve Kanter for short spurts.
We want to hear from you, share your trade and buyout targets in the comments below.