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What are the Trail Blazers Most Likely to do This Summer?

Portland has plenty of avenues open. Which ones are widest?

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are on the move this summer. Sporting tradeable contracts, free agents, a few draft picks, trade exceptions, and a “can do” attitude, the Blazers are suited up and ready to boogie in the big-movement phases of the off-season. Sometimes the plethora of options can be hard to sort out, so we’re taking a moment for a simple question in today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

Ok we’ve heard what we can do with all the options, but what are we going to do? What’s the most likely outcome when we get to the end of summer and everything is finished?

Lisa

This response is predicated on the assumption that the Blazers are going to keep Damian Lillard. If they were willing to trade him—or if he indicated he wanted out—a whole new flowchart of possibilities opens up. We’re going to skip all of those, assuming the chances of the Blazers pursuing them are vanishingly small.

Portland’s goal will be to build around Lillard. Ideally they’d like to do that by adding veteran talent. Ideally, they’d acquire two high-quality starters to place around their current core, which consists of Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, and Jusuf Nurkic. If the quality of starter was high enough, they could afford to trade away one of the non-Lillard core players in order to make the deal work. Obviously the 7th pick in this year’s draft is in play, along with future picks.

Pie in the sky combinations include something like Deandre Ayton or John Collins plus OG Anunoby. One of those two bigs plus Jerami Grant would also qualify. If the Blazers pulled that off, given their current resources, it’d be near miraculous.

The most likely outcome of the summer is that the Blazers would be able to acquire one nice trade target, but not two. Somebody is going to want that 7th pick. The Blazers are going to value an experienced, well-rounded player more than they’d value a first-round draftee. If a frontcourt player can defend and is a double-digit scorer, look for him to be on Portland’s radar. They’ll get someone.

Will it be enough, though? I expect more than the Evan Turner or Al-Farouq Aminu acquisition we’re familiar with from the last regime, but the overall effect may be the same even if the player coming in is of higher quality. The roster has holes. The franchise has needs. The Blazers aren’t bargaining from a position of strength. Their assets aren’t overwhelming. They’re setting off on a grocery shopping trip thinking banquet, but they may come back with enough for a decent meal and some snacks.

If they do well, the Blazers would get Collins or Anunoby but not have the juice to get a strong second. They’d be fishing with the MLE or depend on players like Joe Ingles and Trendon Watford to fill in gaps. You can downgrade the incoming player a notch, but Portland can’t afford to bargain-basement shop with that lottery pick.

Any other outcome would require one of two presumptions: either the Blazers hit the jackpot or they struck out. In the former case, rejoice! They got the deal mentioned above, plus a bonus. If they strike out, you have the consolation of them drafting seventh, at least. You could argue that’s superior to spending assets on a player who helps, but not enough. To make that rationalization work, though, you also have to assume the Blazers will be rebuilding with a younger roster. That’d be a major course change, but it’s not impossible.

Trading down in the draft is an option, but that would be part of a larger strategy to acquire veterans (either in that trade, or by acquiring more assets to trade), so we’ll fold that into the already-detailed scenarios. I don’t see the Blazers trading down to draft two rookies instead of one, or to acquire minor future assets, or to gain a 10th man.

Trading up is another possibility. They’d need to fall in love with a draft prospect to do it. The Sacramento Kings seem like the most likely target for a swap. I don’t see one of the immediate difference-makers falling to the fourth spot, so this would indicate a rebuild as well, which is why I don’t credit the possibility higher.

Summarizing, I’d rank the likeliest possibilities like this:

  1. Try for two, get one (then pretend like you got two with your ancillary move/signing)
  2. Try for two, get two (or close enough that we say they cleared the bar)
  3. Use pick for self and call it good (with modest extra moves)
  4. Trade up and use pick
  5. Trade down and use pick(s)

Of those, at least 75% of the probability lies in Options 1 and 2. I don’t see the Blazers standing pat. It’s just a matter of how far from “pat” they can get.

Thanks for the question! You can write yours to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to answer!