The Portland Trail Blazers are no stranger to a slow start to a season. Similar to this season, they opened 2015-16 with a 15-24 record, 2016-17 with an 18-27 record, and 2019-20 with a 16-24 start, only to rally and sneak into the postseason in each of those seasons. Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz suggests that this will be the year that those hot starts run out, predicting that the Blazers will deal away both Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic at the 2022 NBA trade deadline.
Swartz’s rationale is that Covington and Nurkic — both unrestricted free agents this offseason — won’t be able to both remain in Portland long-term, so a deal would merely be speeding up an inevitable process.
Both Nurkic and Covington are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Even before factoring in new contracts for both and Anfernee Simons (a restricted free agent), Portland has $108 million in payroll on the books. The team won’t be able to re-sign all three.
Nurkic isn’t much of a defender but has been a walking double-double this year (13.5 points, 10.0 rebounds in 25.6 minutes), and Covington is a versatile team defender who can space the floor.
Consider this a mini rebuild for the Blazers, who trade Nurkic and Covington now for players under contract next year and/or draft picks.
Swartz doesn’t list an actual trade, but he does hit on the Blazers’ glaring need to improve its defense, which has ranks dead last in defensive rating. Such a move would allow them to at least get something in return before Nurkic and Covington roam freely.