The Portland Trail Blazers had an interesting week. After securing the services of Jerami Grant for a pittance from the Detroit Pistons, General Manager Joe Cronin went and drafted a 19-year-old relative unknown in Shaedon Sharpe 24 hours later.
They didn’t trade for Toronto Raptors wing OG Anunoby, which was rumored and would have been the answer to all of Portland’s questions. Toronto boss Masai Ujiri either asked for too much or chose not to engage.
Ugh, oh well.
Sharpe is a tantalizing prospect who might have the ability to be a real difference maker down the line, but we haven’t got much more to go on through a lack of valuable pre-NBA experience. As a result, the Blazers are now stretched between two timelines. One with Damian Lillard and Grant and the other with Anfernee Simons — who may sit in both — and his potential future backcourt running mate Sharpe.
As of today, the Blazers have 13 players contracted next season; Lillard, Grant, Sharpe, Josh Hart, Nassir Little, Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Trendon Watford, Didi Louzada, Greg Brown III, Jabari Walker and two-way contract Brandon Williams. They’re also likely to bring back Simons and Jusuf Nurkic via free agency taking the total to 15. Theoretically, enough bodies to take this team into next season.
But this roster is still incomplete and unbalanced, with the small forward and center positions largely the thinnest. I’m not too worried about center. As mentioned, the Blazers look set to bring Nurkic back and capable back up bigs appear relatively easy to procure.
As for small forward, Nassir Little, is in fact, the only true three on this roster. Yes, Hart, Grant, Winslow and Louzada can play the three but Little is the only guy built to play the position full time.
This situation is accentuated by the fact that wings, particularly bigger wings, are arguably the most important position in the modern game. Just look at the recent NBA Finals, aside from the freak that is Steph Curry, the three next most important players were Andrew Wiggins, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Yes, Grant is a bigger wing, but he probably isn’t nimble enough to consistently run with the players above without help.
So what do the Blazers do?
The three avenues every team has to improve their respective rosters are the draft, trade and free agency. The draft is done, leaving Cronin trade and free agency to make more moves.
Here are three names, two via trade and one potentially via free agency, that might be options.
An hour before Thursday’s draft started, my countryman Matisse Thybulle was mentioned as a potential Blazers target.
Yes, he’s 6’5. Yes his shooting is subpar. But, man the guy could be one of the best young defenders in the league, earning two All Defensive Second team awards by the age of 25. He also has a 7-foot wingspan and natural defensive instincts, which allow him to comfortably guard positions one-through-four.
The Australian national team representative has spent a large portion of his time with the Philadelphia 76ers as a small forward and would instantly make up for the defensive deficiencies held by Lillard and Simons. Thybulle is an elite point of attack defender and would make up a pretty devastating defensive forward duo alongside Grant.
The logistics of bringing Thybulle to Portland would be pretty straightforward. He’s still on his rookie-scale deal, which means the Blazers could absorb him straight into the trade exception created in February’s deadline deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Obviously you have to wonder what 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has cooking elsewhere, but you'd imagine Thybulle could be a realistic get.
Don’t worry, I, too, cringed when thinking about this one, but hear me out. His contract is as gaudy as they come and injuries have seriously diminished the 32-year-old’s ability to contribute.
But with only two years left on his deal, Hayward could be a decent stop-gap, allowing Sharpe to find his feet in this league. And if it doesn’t work could moved as an expiring next summer.
Given the complexities associated with trading Bledsoe’s contract, it could be tricky fitting Hayward’s $30 million contract into a deal, but the Blazers would likely send out at least what they took back in the Robert Covington-Norman Powell deal. That is, Bledsoe, Winslow, Johnson and draft compensation.
From the Charlotte Hornets’ perspective, they maybe also be able to offer another asset given the size of Hayward’s deal with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reporting the Carolina franchise was willing to attach a first round pick to the veteran before the draft.
Last season, Hayward played a grand total of 49 games, plagued by ankle, back and hamstring injuries. But nothing like the gruesome foot fracture he suffered in his first game with the Boston Celtics back in 2017.
In those 49 games, Hayward started in 48, putting up 15.9 points on 39 percent three point shooting, 4.6 boards, 3.6 assists and 1 steal. If he’s able to get his body right, Hayward offers shooting, facilitating, a modicum of defense and at 6’8 has the size to compete at the three while mentoring Sharpe through his first steps in the league.
Someone I mentioned earlier this offseason as being both a sentimental and practical move for the Blazers. Batum’s impressive play-in performance proved he was still able to compete on both sides of the ball. Let’s not forget that his close friend Damian Lillard tried to lure Batum back to Portland 12 months ago.
The 33-year-old recently opted out of his $3.3 million contract with Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reporting yesterday that the Frenchman could be chasing the non-taxpayer midlevel exception at around the $10 million mark. Unfortunately, the Blazers might not be eligible for the full mid-level, depending on what they do over the next few weeks, but this could be an interesting move.
We’re still not sure how he feels about the Clippers, a franchise he was able to reinvigorate his career with after years in the wilderness with the Hornets. But maybe his relationship with Lillard could be a difference maker.
Personally, I’d love to see Batum back in Blazers colors, maybe not playing starters minutes, but, like Hayward, providing that bridge to Portland’s next generation.
The Blazers locked in a high-upside wing with the seventh pick on Thursday but they still have a hole at the small forward position. Unless Cronin is planning to start Little at the three, the Blazers have work to do this summer because, unfortunately, OG Anunoby still plays for Toronto.
On draft night, Cronin said the franchise would continue working hard to improve via trades and free agency, so let’s see if and how his plans pan out.