The 2023 NBA Trade Deadline is on its way. Contracts are coming available for swaps and Portland Trail Blazers fans are salivating over the possibilities of their team pulling off a big move to leap from hopeful mediocrity to real contention.
We’re taking the epitome of those moves as an example from the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
LeBron isn’t winning anything in LA. Might this be a good time to attempt to trade for him?
Blazers have a nice mix of vets + younger players + draft picks. I don’t imagine a lot of teams trading for him at this point, mostly in part because of his likely veto power, salary and that he might only be there a few seasons. However, that’s right in line with Dame’s timeline, nevermind their friendship.
LeBron to Portland, eh? What a twist that would be on the recruitment meeting he and Damian Lillard supposedly had a couple summers ago.
While it’s fun imagining the scenario, it’s not likely for a half-dozen reasons. We’ll list the practical ones below, but let’s address one we seldom talk about: optics.
In doing so, let’s turn down the heat a little bit. I don’t need LeBron in order to be happy. I think Portland would look cool, and quite different, with Rudy Gobert in the lineup. He’s not the ideal, all-around center, but he ticks every box the Blazers need and he’d change their game singlehandedly. Karl-Anthony Towns is injured, but even when he was whole, the whole Twin Towers experiment was off to a shaky start. It doesn’t look like a viable plan for the 16-19 Minnesota Timberwolves. With Gobert scheduled to make over $40 in each of the next three seasons, it looks like Minnesota is laying a goat-hair-covered skunk egg with their new strategy.
In this scenario, trading Gobert would make some sense for them. Towns is the generational talent, the franchise star. They probably won’t move him. Rudy has to be the one to go if they can’t keep it together.
The Trail Blazers should be salivating over the possibilities here. Maybe they can’t get Gobert this year, but what about in the summer? How about next trade deadline? A pinwheel-clad vulture should be circling over the carcass of the Minnesota roster for just that possibility.
Except there’s no chance. None. Not in the immediate future, anyway. Not for anything the Blazers could reasonably offer.
Why? Minnesota traded away Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro, and first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029, plus the right for Utah to swap picks in 2026. all to get Gobert.
It doesn’t matter how the team is doing. It doesn’t matter if Gobert curses out the owner’s pet kitten and chops down their favorite Elderberry tree for matchstick kindling. The minute the General Manager suggests accepting Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, some salary ballast, and a future pick for Gobert, he’s going to lose his job. Timberwolves fans would also demand a new finger, toe, and patch of nose hair be sacrificed every year that Minnesota lost a pick because of the Gobert follies.
Optics aren’t everything. Except sometimes they are. Or at least they matter greatly.
Returning to the Lakers, trading LeBron James is an optical nightmare. He’s not the one-man ticket to the NBA Finals he used to be, but he still scores 28 per game with 8 rebounds and 7 assists, and that’s as an old man. He’s instantly the most recognizable player of his generation. Nobody in the next has supplanted him either.
Everyone in the universe would know why Los Angeles was trading LeBron. They couldn’t win. In fact, they kind of sucked. Everyone would also know that it wasn’t LeBron’s fault. If the return package didn’t justify the deal completely—in a way so glittery that nobody could miss it—it’d look like the franchise was waving a giant white flag. The Lakers do not wave white flags. They’d rather eat his contract through 2025 (if he keeps his final year player option at $51 million) than look stupid without it.
The starting price for James would be Damian Lillard and draft picks, with Shaedon Sharpe as the only possible mitigating factor reducing the bill. Portland simply wouldn’t pay it.
Note also that James can’t be moved before this year’s trade deadline, meaning 2023-24 would be the soonest the teams could make the deal.
Note again that James isn’t the player he once was. Nor do teammates always prosper with his arrival. It wouldn’t be any more of a sure thing for Portland than it is for L.A.
If all of this could be overcome and the Blazers could get King James in a sweetheart swap, by all means they should go for it! It’s not likely. It’d be better to be surprised by the awesomeness if it did happen than wish for something that probably never could.
Setting sights on a nice deal to further the fortunes of the franchise is probably smart at this point. You just might want to aim a little lower and make sure the reputations of both teams will remain intact if the deal gets done.
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