NBA Trade Season 2022, and 2023, is upon us! The Portland Trail Blazers are not immune to the swirling rumors surrounding all 30 NBA franchises. Amid talks of players the Blazers could get stands the question a Blazer’s Edge Reader posed for this edition of the Mailbag: who would they give away?
Clear up something for me. How valuable are Portland’s pieces in trade this year? And do we even know which pieces we’re willing to trade? I’ve heard a hundred different suggestions. Got any clarity on the matter?
Ahhhh...trade season is joyous, isn’t it? One minute the Blazers are trading their 13th player for Kevin Durant. The next minute Damian Lillard’s contract is too big to even be moved.
This is part of the beauty, though. Ambiguity over value and strategy leave the field open for dreaming. The truth is, nobody can pin exact availability or return. It depends on circumstances and priorities, which are as different as 30 NBA lead executives over 82 games and beyond. Plus owners. Plus the players themselves. Plus injuries. Plus contracts and future potential contracts.
In the midst of all this, we can still try. I’ll answer your question in as systematically-sound fashion as I can, though precision will be beyond any of us.
Two variables have to align in order for a player to be a viable trade candidate. His current team needs to be willing to deal him and he has to have value to another.
This seems obvious, but starting with those initial assertions actually eliminates plenty of Trail Blazers players from consideration.
Players can be valuable for any number of reasons. In a salary cap system with restricted swapping, any contract can take on out-sized value just because of its amount. If you need to throw in $2 million more to make your ideal swap, the player holding that contract suddenly becomes way more valuable than his stats or the dollar amount suggest.
For our purposes, though, let’s take that for granted, putting an asterisk on everybody, saying that under the right circumstances, they could all be dealt. Granting that, we still want to know which players have the most inherent value.
That list includes (in no particular order):
- Damian Lillard
- Anfernee Simons
- Jerami Grant
- Josh Hart
- Jusuf Nurkic
- Justise Winslow
- Shaedon Sharpe
- Nassir Little
You can absolutely make an argument that Keon Johnson or Jabari Walker would have value to a team, but it’s not widespread. Once you get below the Winslow-Little line, the combination of situational talent and tiny contracts remove Portland’s players from serious trade consideration as individuals.
From that list of eight, the Blazers have no inclination to trade Damian Lillard or Shaedon Sharpe. I’d be gobsmacked if either came up in serious discussions this year.
Jerami Grant has been performing so well, and seamlessly, that Portland wouldn’t deal him either. His contract expires after the season, so it’s not likely any other team would offer value for him, not knowing if he’d stay.
Eliminating those three leaves five players: Simons, Nurkic, Hart, Winslow, and Little. There’s your pool of reasonable trade candidates for 2022-23.
I believe the Blazers would consider trading Simons, but only for an overwhelming deal. They just signed him to a four-year, $100 million deal. That wasn’t an accident, nor was it a defensive financial move. They like him. He’s 23, a thrilling three-point shooter, and has scoring potential to burn. If Simons goes, the player coming in will be considered Portland’s Solution to Everything. That tells you how likely he is to move, which is “not”.
The same can be said to a lesser extent for Nurkic. He signed a smaller four-year, $70 million deal last summer, but this was more defensive. What were the Blazers going to do without him? They would not have generated any usable cap space by letting him go. They have no other viable starting centers on the roster or in the wings. His contract amount isn’t onerous. I don’t believe the Blazers want to trade him. They can’t now any more than they could have released him last summer, not unless a starting center is coming in return. But if that were to happen, or if they could buy a star-level small forward with a package including Nurk and then wait for next year to contend, the possibility is open.
Josh Hart has a player option at the end of the season. He can opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent in June. The Blazers are likely to pay Jerami Grant whatever he asks for to re-sign with them. That probably means they can’t afford to do the same for Hart. That, and Hart’s nearly-universally-accepted skill set, make him the likeliest candidate among Portland players to be traded this February. Hart has the right combination of talent, utility, experience, and contract (just $13 million) to light up switchboards across the league.
The only issue for Portland might come in trading Hart solo. Who could they get for him that would be better now and/or help in the future? The answer isn’t simple. That’s why combining Hart with another player on this list—and/or someone farther down it—is a real possibility.
Justise Winslow is a much-lower-stakes version of Hart. His contract expires as well, but he’s only making $4 million this year. The Blazers can absorb that level of salary no matter what. If they don’t intend to re-sign him, they might try to move Winslow to a contender or as part of a bigger package. Otherwise they can afford to wait on him, to see if they can re-up him in the summer.
Nassir Little is injured, which doesn’t help his trade value, but if the Blazers did intend to keep Hart and/or Winslow beyond this season and another team wanted Little, he could be moved. I’m not sure any of those conditions will be met. I also like Little’s game, personally. I see him more as an attractive package sweetener (if necessary) than a straight-up trade candidate.
All five of those players have some value. Simons might have a huge amount. Nurkic and Hart would be attractive under the right conditions. Portland has some possibilities to consider. There’s no automatic knockout move, though, and the Blazers are competing with every other team making the same analysis of their own players and franchise prospects. I wouldn’t say the Blazers are flush with value or ripe with opportunity, but if they need to find the right combination to make a deal work, they can probably manage it.
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