If you believe the rumors, General Manager Joe Cronin has been busy since the Portland Trail Blazers season came to an end two months ago. According to multiple sources, the newly-minted GM has been actively calling about the availability of players he hopes will complement Damian Lillard and likely free agent returnees Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic.
Portland’s first-round draft pick will be Cronin’s best lever to secure his dream additions. Two trade targets mentioned repeatedly in recent weeks have been Toronto Raptors wing OG Anunoby and Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins.
While the Hawks appear keen to move on from Collins, the Raptors and their championship-winning President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri have yet to indicate if Anunoby can actually be had. The Blazers have also been linked to the Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant and the Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton but for the purposes of this piece, let’s look at Collins and Anunoby, the best options playing at positions of need.
Lillard and Simons will almost certainly make up the starting backcourt next season — despite the fact that the latter is about to hit restricted free agency. Nurkic is also a good bet to return as the team’s starting center, entering free agency after sitting the last couple of months of the most recent season.
And while it appears the disgruntled Ayton could be on his way out in Arizona, he may cost more than what the Blazers may be able to offer. Yes, Nurkic could be conceivably used in a double sign and trade for Ayton, but this kind of deal can’t even be discussed until July 1.
Before we go any further, let’s just recap the relevant scuttlebutt surrounding Collins and Anunoby, both taken in the 2017 draft at selections 19 and 23 respectively. That’s right, the infamous night the Blazers traded picks 15 and 20 to the Sacramento Kings for pick 10 and Zach Collins. If they'd just held onto the two picks they could have taken the pair five years ago. Ugh.
But let’s move forward.
“Regardless of whether the Raptors have been interested in moving him or what have you, Portland has been repeatedly characterized to me as the team that is very much trying to go make inroads to add OG Anunoby through their trade exception to go pair him with Damian Lillard.”
Portland’s interest in Collins was first murmured earlier this month and given real oxygen last week when Fischer revealed on the Dunc’d On podcast that the Hawks big man was on Portland’s radar.
“He’s definitely been mentioned as a Portland trade candidate. I don’t know if it’s been discussed, I want to be clear, but it’s something people have pitched to me that something has a really a high likelihood.”
I’ve already laid out my rationale for Anunoby and all the possibilities open to the Blazers if they landed him, but it doesn’t hurt to re-hash.
He’s 24-year-old on one of the league’s most team-friendly deals: $18 million a year over the next three seasons. At 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan, he’s everything the Blazers have needed at the small forward since they parted ways with Nicolas Batum. He’s risen to become one of the best defensive wings in the league, able to expertly guard positions one through four, and in some cases, fives.
The British-born athlete is only beginning to find his feet on the offensive end, capable of facilitating and scoring at all three levels and still years away from his basketball prime.
On offense, he averaged 14.5 shots and 17.1 points on 36 percent three point shooting, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 20.5 percent usage this season. A considerable improvement on his career 10.4 points on 37 percent three point shooting, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 16.4 percent usage.
Collins received his current contract as one of many the Hawks dolled out, Oprah-style, after the team made an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Similarly to Portland’s own conference finals appearance in 2019, it appeared the team jumped the shark prematurely, assuming it had all the pieces it needed to contend.
Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk has since bravely acknowledged said mistake and as a result might be looking to undo some of last summer’s impulsive decision making by potentially parting with money for a lesser return — similarly to what Portland did in February.
Collins’ now four-year, $100 million deal looks to be one of the first contracts being shopped around. Not necessarily because he’s not a solid player but his deal might be the quickest way out of cap hell.
There has been talk of Portland parting with the seventh pick to secure Collins, but given Atlanta’s current predicament that pick might be able to help the Blazers in another deal.
The 6’9 Collins is an athletic power forward, known for highlight-worthy dunks and above-average long range shooting for his size. Unfortunately, the Wake Forest product isn’t renowned for his defense, but he’s not awful and to the naked eye, has shown the ability to hold his own on that side of the ball.
Injuries waylaid much of Collins’ recent season, recording averages of 16.2 points on 36 percent from three, 7.8 boards, 1.8 assists and 1 block in 54 games. His career numbers however, are still impressive for the 24-year-old who has posted 16.5 points on 37 percent three point shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1 block.
Right, now before you start poking holes in the below, I want to be clear that this is the best way I, personally, can see the Blazers getting both players, while ensuring their trading partners are satisfied.
So without further delay.
Portland receives: OG Anunoby, John Collins
Portland sends: 7th pick, 36th pick, 2025 Bucks pick, Josh Hart, Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson
Adds $23.6 million
Toronto receives: 7th pick, Clint Capela, Josh Hart, Trendon Watford
Toronto sends: OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr.
Atlanta receives: 36th pick, 2025 Bucks pick, Gary Trent Jr., Keon Johnson
Atlanta sends: John Collins, Clint Capela
Cuts $23.2 million
Toronto relieves the congestion at the starting forward position created by the arrival of Scottie Barnes last season, sending Anunoby to Portland. Former Blazer Trent Jr. goes to Georgia. In return, Toronto gets the seventh pick and the opportunity to draft a high-upside young player to its core.
Toronto also gets the center they’ve been searching for in Capela, who currently holds a relatively team-friendly contract. Hart is an upgrade on Trent Jr. at shooting guard and Watford will no doubt continue to grow on his smallish, team controlled contract over the next few years.
Starting five: Fred VanVleet, Josh Hart, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Clint Capela
(with the seventh pick and Watford coming off the bench)
Atlanta undoes the self-professed errors they made after the team’s 2021 Eastern Conference finals campaign. They escape luxury tax hell, saving more than $23 million and open themselves up for more moves in the same way the Blazers did at February’s trade deadline.
Yes, they are moving their two starting big men, but the Hawks also clear a runway for young big Onyeka Okongwu while potentially going after Rudy Gobert who they have reported interest in. Atlanta gets Milwaukee’s top four protected 2025 first rounder, which might be more attractive than first thought as the Bucks continue to age. Not to mention Portland’s high second round pick this year. Atlanta also takes in 2021 first rounder Keon Johnson and Trent Jr, who might be the best backcourt complement to Trae Young they’ve had thanks to his low usage, 3 and D skillset.
Starting five: Trae Young, Gary Trent Jr., Bogdan Bogdanovic, Deandre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu
(and whoever else they snag with their more flexible salary sheet).
As for Portland, the Blazers get two young starters about to hit their primes while relinquishing young talent, picks and Hart who has become a solid fringe starter/rotation player.
Adding Anunoby, the Blazers get the point of attack defender they’ve desperately needed since Wesley Matthews. He can also help cover up for the defensive deficiencies owned by the Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons backcourt. Collins adds athleticism, shooting and still untapped defensive potential — a glove-like fit next to Jusuf Nurkic.
They still have access to the midlevel and biannual exceptions to fill out the bench, which will probably be used to insert bench facilitating and another big behind Nurkic with Nassir Little and Justise Winslow still on the roster. I find it very difficult to see Eric Bledsoe on the team next season with his guaranteed $3.9 million waived or dealt in another trade.
Starting five: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, OG Anunoby, John Collins, Jusuf Nurkic
It appears the Blazers aren’t playing shadow games this summer. If you believe the pundits, they’re boldly and aggressively making calls about players they hope will improve this roster next season and into the future.
Anunoby and Collins are two names that could very well vault the Blazers into contention next season, assuming Lillard returns to form and Nurkic and Simons return in free agency. We don’t know whether both can be brought in but the above deal might be one possible way Cronin can make it happen.