In inconspicuous fashion, the Portland Trail Blazers have given Damian Lillard a competent supporting cast, but several trades could upgrade the roster further.
General manager Joe Cronin has the team poised to make the Play-In Tournament at the least, fueled by notable offseason acquisition Jerami Grant. Nonetheless, with a 32-year-old Lillard on the back-end of his prime, more retooling may be needed for a resurgence.
Most salubrious to the success and extension of a superstar’s career in this era are 3-and-D players who can switch several positions and play efficiently. A bench that can alleviate pressure, and rim protection that ignites easy points in transition are the icing on the cake and the cherry on top. Lillard has been devoid of this for much of his career, especially in the front-court.
With free agents on the market, and players on the block around the league, here are a few moves that can upgrade the Blazers’ prospects for the short and long term.
If The Lakers Won’t Take Turner, Portland Should
Myles Turner’s name has been all over the rumor mill in recent weeks. Twice have the Los Angeles Lakers declined to swap Russell Westbrook for him and Buddy Hield, due to pick negotiations. Clearly, the Indiana Pacers have no problem moving the center for the right price.
In comes Rip City. Swapping Jusuf Nurkic for Turner would give the Blazers an upgrade in several areas.
When compared, Nurkic’s performance in the regular season and the playoffs greatly differ. The most glaring number for big “Nurk” is availability. He missed Portland’s 2019 16-game run to the Western Conference Finals – their deepest playoff run since 2000 – signifying his health, or serious lack thereof. To add insult to injury, he hasn’t been around expediently in the regular season either, playing 60 plus games in only three of his eight career seasons.
Shaquille O’Neal preaches how a team’s best players are expected to increase their scoring averages in the playoffs, and not the other way around. Jusuf Nurkic has not increased his playoff points per game from his regular season numbers a single time in his NBA tenure.
Lastly, opposing defenses have feasted in the paint against Rip City, where they’ve yet to finish better than 14th in the league in points allowed in the paint over the last four years.
Yet, Myles Turner proves to be an upgrade for what the Blazers need moving forward. Turner is one of, if not the best rim protectors in the entire association. He also shoots a respectable 35% from the 3 for his career – 12% better than the Bosnian big – and is a viable option catching and shooting off of the pick and roll, where he shoots a reflective 34%.
Turner, deprived of minutes throughout the duration of his stay in Indiana, gives the Trail Blazers a man child that can do everything asked for on both ends, and everything Nurkic cannot. Does he improve their interior defense? Yes. Does he improve their outside defense? Yes. Can he switch more effectively? You bet. Is he more of a threat from deep, and allows for more dynamism on offense? Oui monsieur.
Contractually, the Blazers are around $28 million over the cap, so the $3 million extra does not help. However, packaging Greg Brown III in the deal gives Indiana a combo forward that can get his own bucket, and alleviates the monetary surplus.
The only downside to this proposition, is that Myles Turner is on the last year of his deal and Jusuf Nurkic still has four left. Turner could demand more money at the end of the season and walk if his requests are not satiated. It’s a gamble that may very well be worth it, though.
Head up North, Jae Crowder!
Anyone would be upset at a demotion, regardless of industry. Understandably, Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix. The Blazers have an opportunity to answer their unsolved offseason question by bringing in a veteran combo forward with much experience.
Crowder doesn’t have many numbers that jump out at you on the box, but he has been to two of the last three NBA Finals, sporting a 3-point percentage of over 40% in those years. Crowder brings toughness on defense, with a knack for drawing charges, diving for loose balls, and being in the right spot at the right time.
Dame could use a shooter on the wing like the former Marquette star, to kick out to when the defense collapses off of him getting the step. Crowder’s patented one-handed swing pass for the hockey assist will help get others involved and promote ball movement that head coach Chauncey Billups yearns for.
His $10.18 million contract would charge Portland for players the likes of Josh Hart. Therefore it’s up to the coaching and front office staff to determine if they want to go young, or with experience.
Free Cam Reddish
The Knicks don’t know how to use Cam Reddish. They gave up Kevin Knox and a pick for the former Duke standout, and in 15 games played, his points per game almost halved from his time in Atlanta, his minutes drastically decreased, and with it, his 3 point percentage.
Reddish’s per 36 minutes stats from last season are in accordance with his pre-draft player projections, be it a 17.7 PPG scorer, with good hands at 1.7 steals per game (SPG). Simply put, a move for Reddish would gift Portland with a ready-now player who also would have the most upside on the roster at the small-forward position, by a mile.
He’s on a nearly $6 million expiring contract, so obtaining a player of his worth would cost Portland the likes of Justise Winslow or Nasir Little, and an expiring contract at the end of their bench.
Dwight Howard Can Still Contribute
Dwight Howard is old? Dwight Howard is washed up? That’s what people said in his 2020 bubble championship season with the L.A Lakers. Yet, when played in effective minutes, Howard played uncanny defense, moving his feet in the pick-and-roll and defending the rim.
In those finals, he was a shockingly apt playmaker from the free throw line extended inwards and gave the “Lake Show” hustle and energy. Howard’s numbers don’t really matter in the capacity Portland would play him. 12-15 minutes a night will suffice.
The Blazers would need high-energy minutes. Howard running hard in transition, protecting the rim, being a nuisance to pick-and-roll facilitators, and agitating opposing bigs would be a match made in heaven. Looking at the Blazers’ depth chart, they could surely use a backup big to man the middle.
Lance Will be Lance
Lance Stephenson’s game, and reputation precede him. Stephenson brings attitude, flare, and grittiness to a team. Portland needs these intangibles off of their bench.
The 32 year old still has game left to give, averaging 9.3 PPG, 3.9 assists per game (APG) on nearly 46% shooting from the field and 80% shooting from the line in 40 games for the Pacers. All are above his career averages.
Portland is bereft of playmaking in their second unit. Lance – in short spurts – can get his own shot, bring the ball up the floor, and ignite runs. Evidence of this could be seen in Indiana’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets on January 5th of last season, where he scored 19 straight points for the final 5:11 of the first quarter.
For the veteran’s minimum, Stephenson could be, at worst, a secret weapon to have come playoff time.
Portland, as with any team, should always be looking to get better. Dame Dolla has pledged his unwavering allegiance to Rip City, therefore, management owes it to him to take calculated risks, as well as sound transactions, to inch the Trail Blazers closer to a championship, at all times.
BE community, we want to hear from you! Which move do you think will help the Blazers out the most?
What move would you like to see the Blazers pull off the most?
This poll is closed
Trade for Myles Turner
Trade for Jae Crowder
Trade for Cam Reddish
Sign Dwight Howard
Sign Lance Stephenson