The Portland Trail Blazers have plans for aggressive improvement this summer. That claim could be made of at least 28 of 30 NBA teams, but Portland has multiple incentives to do so. They are trying to rebound from a disappointing, injury-plagued season. They want to march into the 2023 NBA Playoffs with confidence, ready to make an impact reminiscent of their run to the 2019 Western Conference Finals. They’re trying to find a way forward with franchise superstar Damian Lillard, who will turn 32 this July and doesn’t have time to wait for a lengthy rebuild. They also have the 7th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, plus enough cap flexibility to shuffle players and facilitate imbalanced trades. Both flexibility and the draft ticket will disappear by the end of the summer, so they’re forced to make big swings now.
In this atmosphere, the Blazers have been linked with multiple players and scenarios. This has caused the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag to sprout like a Hawaiian backyard garden. Instead of trying to pluck the questions one by one, we’re going to address the scenarios in this omnibus Mailbag post, asking whether the Blazers will make that move and whether they should.
For the “will” part, we’ll use a simple scale of 1-10, with 10 being virtually certain and 1 being extremely unlikely. For “should”, we’ll give our yes, no, or maybe, then explain.
Will the Blazers Trade the 7th Pick?
Likelihood: 8/10 Advisability: Strong Yes.
If the Blazers don’t end up trading the seventh pick, it won’t be for lack of trying. Unless they’re willing to move Damian Lillard, it’s their best asset for improvement. It’s also far more valuable as a trade chip—granting a reasonably-talented player on a rookie contract—than it is as a vehicle for immediate improvement.
The seventh selection lands Portland just short of no-man’s land, at the tail end of the bankable players in a draft is projected to go three deep in potential stars, with another four players worth gambling on. If they use the pick for themselves, they’ll be forced to take the leftovers of the first six teams—backed into that final gamble regardless of position or skill set—or they’ll be out on a limb, taking a flyer on a player with less potential.
This is not a horrible position. Getting one good, young player with potential is better than getting zero. But it’s not a position from which the Blazers can solve their problems.
If they were drafting Top Three, this would be a different discussion. As it is, there’s a 10 in 10 chance Portland will try to leverage their lottery position into a talented veteran. Failing that, moving up or down in the draft is a strong possibility. The 8 in 10 estimate above reflects the chance that they won’t be able to accomplish their goal and will get “stuck” using the pick for themselves.
Will the Blazers Get Deandre Ayton?
Likelihood: 2/10 Advisability: Strong Yes.
Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns are rumored to be at odds. The Suns will almost certainly match any offer sheet for the restricted free agent. They can’t let a recent #1 overall pick depart for nothing. But a sign-and-trade is a strong possibility. Just because Ayton is on the Phoenix roster in July doesn’t mean he’ll be there in October.
Portland has plenty of incentive to get into the bidding war for Ayton. He’s young, has star potential, and can swing either way if the Blazers decide to stay the course or rebuild. He can score and defend. His issues in Phoenix were gray-area enough to suspect that a fresh start would help. Ayton isn’t the perfect fit in Portland, but they’ll not find a more talented player available and achievable on the market.
Even if the opportunity comes up, it’s not likely Portland has the chips to actually win a scrum for Ayton’s services. Plenty of teams will be interested, many of whom can offer higher-profile players. The seventh pick and Jusuf Nurkic wouldn’t be an insignificant bid, but Oklahoma City, Toronto, Chicago, Indiana, Utah, and Orlando could all make competitive offers. And that’s not the whole list, even. Portland’s aim and their reach might not match up here, making this a relatively difficult acquisition.
Will the Blazers Get John Collins?
Likelihood: 3/10 Advisability: Yes
Most of the things said above about Deandre Ayton apply to John Collins as well. He’s a talented big. He and his current team appear to be disenchanted with each other. The Hawks are facing a hefty payroll challenge without a track record of success, meaning they’d divest at a reasonable price.
The Collins-Ayton situations are slightly different. Collins is not a defender. His potential ceiling may be lower. But he’s a high-quality big man. Portland lacks same. That’s enough to get this deal done from the Blazers’ point of view.
Compensation alongside the 2022 lottery pick might be an issue. Atlanta won’t want high-priced players coming back, making a Collins-Nurkic swap a no-go. Would the Blazers be willing to part with the more reasonably-priced Josh Hart?
The difficulty of making a match here—plus the relative improbability of executing any trade of this magnitude—keeps the likelihood low, but look for Collins talk to heat up as the summer progresses.
Will the Blazers Get OG Anunoby?
Likelihood: 4/10 Advisability: Yes
OG Anunoby has been mentioned less than most of the other players on this list, but he’s still a strong possibility from Portland’s perspective. He makes more sense than any other single player. He’s well-rounded, plays defense, and is making a reasonable amount of money instead of walking into a new contract that will put the Blazers on the hook for $100+ million.
Toronto has incentive to trade Anunoby as well. He’s getting crowded out by Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam. If the Raptors were still title contenders, retaining OG would make sense. Both he and the team would have a common goal, overriding his personal interest and their financial one. As it is, the Raptors are likely to value Siakam and Barnes, making Anunoby a smaller priority. Portland can give him a bigger role, and there you go.
This may create the perfect storm that allows Portland to get in the OG Derby with the seventh pick. It’s not overwhelmingly likely, but it’s a better possibility than snagging a star big.
The question for the Blazers then becomes, “What else are you going to do?” Anunoby would be a smart pick-up, but the Blazers have had those before. Is he enough to trade this summer’s One Big Asset for?
P.S. Keep in mind that Toronto needs a center, which may make other offers more attractive for them than Portland’s.
Will the Blazers Get Jerami Grant?
Likelihood: 5/10 Advisability: Maybe???
Pistons forward Jerami Grant was the first big name associated with the Blazers this spring. He remains a favorite among fans for good reason. He’s a defender who, when given a large role in the offense, has begun to put up numbers. There are caveats. His production is high-volume, lower-percentage when compared to some of the other names on this list. He’s angling for a big, new contract that the Blazers would need to grant him should they desire his services.
Grant should be an easier get for Portland than anybody else on this list. Detroit doesn’t plan to pay him. They’ll lose him for nothing if they don’t engineer a trade. The seventh pick would get the deal done. It’s also an overpay.
That brings up the critical question: Can the Blazers get Grant for Milwaukee’s 2025 first-round pick and spare parts? If so, look for this to be a strong secondary move, accompanying anything the Blazers do with the lottery pick. The catch is, it’s an expensive panacea if it becomes Portland’s primary move of the offseason.
Will the Blazers Get Zach LaVine?
Likelihood: 1/10 Advisability: Probably Not
The Blazers have been linked to Zach LaVine for a couple reasons, neither of which are basketball-related. Portland has potential salary cap space. LaVine needs a new contract.
Acquiring LaVine would only make sense if the Blazers are going to trade Lillard, which isn’t on the table at this time. Despite LaVine’s overwhelming offensive prowess, he’s a shaky fit with Dame, particularly on the defensive end. He’d also be expensive. Plus the Blazers are likely to retain Anfernee Simons, who will come cheaper than LaVine, a player who would compete with him for minutes and touches. Combining Lillard, LaVine, and Simons on full contracts would be near insanity.
Will the Blazers Retain the Following Players?
Jusuf Nurkic— Likelihood: 9/10 Advisability: Yes, for now
Nurkic may not be the long-term solution in Portland, but he’s the longest-tenured player on the squad after Lillard and their only viable center. Letting him walk would not only lose them talent, but a trade chip. If the Blazers were going to rebuild completely, parting with Nurkic would be simple. As long as Lillard stays, Nurkic is either on the squad or on the runway for a trade to make the team better. Unless he gets a crazy offer somewhere, there’s zero percentage in letting Nurk walk for nothing.
Anfernee Simons— Likelihood: 10/10 Advisability: Yes
Simons is like Nurkic, turned up to 11. He’s going to get paid this summer. The Blazers are going to write that check because Simons will project as a starter, because he’s young enough to outlast a rebuild, and because there’s no reason not to. The cap savings they’d skim from letting another team sign him away would not be enough to pull a player of Simons’ quality.
Josh Hart— Likelihood: 9/10 Advisability: Yes
Ditto everything above for Portland guaranteeing Josh Hart’s contract for next season. Even if they get a player who would eat into his minutes, they’ll want him as a future trade chip. Plus he contributes on the floor now.
In short, the only way to generate enough cap space to make a serious move in free agency (or take wildly imbalanced trades) would be to release Nurkic, Simons, and Hart. Nobody the Blazers could get would come close to making up the deficit those three would leave. Ergo, Portland will keep them.
Joe Ingles and Eric Bledsoe— Likelihood: 6/10 Advisability: Probably Ok.
Understanding the paragraph above, you also understand how signing Joe Ingles to a small contract (if possible) and guaranteeing Eric Blesdoe’s contract next year might make sense. These moves would have been unthinkable in the middle of last season, but Portland’s situation has changed. They might forecast Ingles playing off the bench, then being available for a mid-season deal. Bledsoe would be traded this summer, providing salary ballast. Either way, if the Blazers do it, it’s because they already know the purpose they’re putting these players to. It’s not guaranteed that the Blazers will retain either, but if they do, it’s probably the right thing.
So there you go...the complete run of rumors so far, with a month remaining before the NBA Draft. We’ll update and discuss as new possibilities are lifted between now and July!