The Portland Trail Blazers have a roster problem. As of right now, they have a solid starting five: a superstar in Damian Lillard, a borderline All-Star (before his injury) in CJ McCollum, and three really good players in Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, and Norman Powell. It’s possible that Powell isn’t with the team come next season, but the Powell trade earlier this year seemed to signal that the plan is for him to be in Portland for the long run, so it would be shocking if he didn’t stay with the team. It feels reasonably safe to assume that at the very least the Blazers are intent on keeping Powell.
The problem lies with the rest of the team. Portland isn’t a team known for its depth. The drop-off from the starters to the bench is staggering. That starting lineup had a net rating of 13.4 during the regular season. The most predominant bench lineup posted a rating of -7.4. Even though President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has said there’s little room for improvement (insert eye roll here), it’s clear this team needs to change something.
Pulling off trades is one way teams are able to make improvements. It’s why you see CJ McCollum in trade discussions the instant the Blazers start struggling. But outside of McCollum and Lillard (because, come on, they’re not trading Lillard), who has the most value in a trade? And are they good enough to carry a trade of their own? Let’s dive into it.
*Note: This article focuses only on Blazers who are under contract for next season. If they’re a free agent this coming offseason, they’re not in this article.
Does he have value: The Bosnian Beast surely has value. Despite dealing with numerous injuries over the past few seasons, Nurkic has shown that he can be a solid defensive presence and a valuable offensive big. His finishing struggles are notable, but his solid passing ability and stellar screening make him a viable option for any pick-and-roll heavy team. Nurkic is solidly one of the better centers in the league.
What would he bring in: He could bring in a decent haul. Nurkic has two things working in his favor. The first is that he has a favorable contract, making only $12 million this upcoming season, his final before the deal expires. That’s the 12th-most of any center in the league, which isn’t terrible considering that when healthy he’s easily one of the 12 best centers. The other thing is just the latter; he’s a solid center! There are a lot of centers out there that can theoretically provide some value for cheaper, but Nurkic has shown that he can anchor a team defensively while contributing on offense on a reasonable contract. That kind of thing matters.
The main problem with Nurkic is the injuries. He’s only played 45 regular season games over the past two seasons thanks to his horrific leg injury, his broken wrist, and a calf strain. Sometimes the best ability is availability (just look out how Zach Collins’ stock has plummeted for proof of that), and Nurkic doesn’t always have that on display. Still, putting him in a trade with a few picks and a young player attached should net a solid return. You can at least put together a trade with Nurkic as the centerpiece and get a decent haul back.
Should the Blazers do it: I lean towards no, but Nurkic shouldn’t be untouchable. Like I said, he’s a great center, but he’s also one that hasn’t really gotten chances to show it recently. His injuries are concerning and even though he’s overall a positive presence, he’s limited in his finishing and isn’t very switchable on defense. The Blazers would probably be best off keeping Nurkic, but if they need to dump him in an attempt to get an All-Star beside Damian Lillard, they should more than consider it.
Does he have value: Despite some early-season struggles, Robert Covington settled in nicely with the Blazers. He made just under 38% of his threes and was one of the strongest defenders on the team. He was a much more of a team defender than a lockdown point-of-attack guy (which the Blazers desperately need), but what he lacked in one-on-one defense he made up for in weak side and help defense. His three-and-d style is exactly what’s coveted in this league.
What would he bring in: Robert Covington has been involved in a few trades in his career, including one that brought him here to Portland. The Blazers sent two first-round draft picks and Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets to get the 30-year-old wing, which most deemed a slight overpay. At the time, however, it seemed like a risk that was more than worth taking. Covington is the kind of player Portland has always needed. Did the trade get the Blazers out of the first round? No, but that’s more on President of Basketball Operation Neil Olshey’s all-around roster construction than on Covington’s shortcomings.
In general, he alone probably doesn’t bring in that same haul. It’s not that he did anything wrong; he was fine this year. The Blazers just needed Covington badly at the time, which caused them to pay above asking in hopes of finding their answer on the wing. If they can find another team in that same position, then maybe they can pull off a solid deal. But honestly, I doubt that’s as easily available.
Should the Blazers do it: Covington also falls into the ‘I’d rather not, but maybe?’ category. On one hand, Covington was good and provided plenty on both ends of the floor. But if attaching Covington guarantees the Blazers another All-Star, then they have to do it. Covington is a solid player, but Portland doesn’t just need solid contributors; they need tried and true difference makers. Covington would be great to have in Portland black and red again, but they can’t be too scared to attach Covington to a big trade if needed.
Does he have value: Sure, but not enough to carry a trade on his own. He made big strides in his shooting (as I highlighted here) and showed that he can be a microwave offensively. His defense, however, is still among the worst in the league and he’s definitely not a backup point guard like Olshey believes. He’s only 22 years old, and his improvement from year one of real playing time to year two indicates he’s still got potential, but he’s not a head-turning prospect.
What would he bring in: Simons isn’t carrying any trade worth a hoot for the Blazers on his own. He’s an attachment to a CJ McCollum or Jusuf Nurkic-centered trade for a solidified starter, not a solo piece that teams are clamoring to add to their squads. Tack him on at the end of any trade involving one of Portland’s bigger names, and you have a chance at getting something decent.
Should the Blazers do it: Simons is a young player who possesses a lot of promise. The strides he made this season indicate that there’s even more that can be unlocked if developed properly. The problem is that Portland doesn’t need future promise; they need immediate contributions. Simons didn’t seem to be fully ready for that yet. It would sting slightly, but Simons could get the Blazers over the hump in a potential trade. For that reason, the Blazers should consider shipping him out.
Does he have value: Little is similar to Simons in situation, but is a bit more raw in actual ability. His promise on the defensive end is much higher than Simons’, but while he’s shown to be a hard-worker on that end, it hasn’t actually translated into anything productive. I would argue his defensive value is actually overblown for the most part. That all goes without noting that his offense is just not there, even if he shot almost 35% from three on a very small sample size.
What would he bring in: Little’s promise is there, but it’s not so great that he individually is a hot commodity. He might be worth another lower-end rotation player or maybe another raw prospect, but realistically he’s just another guy who you attach to a trade that is centered around a much bigger piece. If a CJ McCollum trade were to happen, he would be a prime candidate to be a supplementary piece. He can’t the be the whole cake, but he can be a slice.
Should the Blazers do it: Back at the beginning of this month, I wrote that Little is like a mystery box. We’ve seen so little (no pun intended) of him that it’s easy to get caught up in the possibilities of what he could be as opposed to what he is. What he is now is a raw prospect who showed minor improvements, but nothing that suggests he’s making ‘The Leap’. I still believe what I wrote back in the beginning of July: Sometimes the mystery box isn’t worth it.
Does he have value: I have nothing against CJ Elleby. He seems like a cool guy and his 15-point performance against the 76ers back in February was one of my favorite moments from this year. I just don’t think he’s really that good. No player I think has zero value, but Elleby’s is very low.
What would he bring in: Elleby wouldn’t bring in much more than a second-round pick on his own. Second-round picks aren’t particularly sexy and also don’t mean a whole lot to the Blazers at the moment. Again, picks are infinitely less valuable to Portland than actual players as long as Damian Lillard is wearing a Blazers uniform. Elleby is yet another player who can be thrown into a bigger trade as a bonus, but not much else.
Should the Blazers do it: I mean, you’re not going to catch me being the guy who says CJ Elleby is untradeable. Yeah, go ahead and trade him if you need to! I don’t want to be this blasé about a player’s future, but in context, trading CJ Elleby makes sense.