Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons has become a lightning rod for criticism during Portland’s sub-.500 performance this season. Fans are quibbling about his attributes, approach, and suitability. With the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline approaching, Simons’ name has popped up locally in trade suggestions. Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag covers the concerns of one reader who is afraid the Blazers won’t do it.
I read and listened with interest as Chris Haynes talked about Ant being untouchable. I think he’s very touchable and in fact I worry that the only thing that might make him untouchable is his salary now. He doesn’t play defense and he’s an isolation scorer in a time when there’s so many of them already. I think either Chris or management have a screw loose. Tell me your screws are tighter please. Am I right?
You’re forthright. That’s good!
Simons is 23, a 22 point per game scorer, carrying average shooting percentages. In past years he’s been a super efficient three-point threat, so average looks bad by comparison. But perspective: when your bad is everybody else’s average, you’re not too bad.
Simons is scheduled to earn between $22.3 million this year and $27.7 million in 2025-26, with raises in between that make the contract average out to $25 million per year. If this were 2016, that’d cause sticker shock. But for this generation of NBA starting guards, particularly point-producers, that deal may end up being slightly low. Simons may not be the perfect fit for the team on the floor right now, but his contract is right-sized.
It’s also important to know that the “fit” question goes both ways. The Blazers need a better defender at the two guard than Simons is right now. They also need his three-point percentage to rise again. But why do they need those things? Because Damian Lillard will prosper with that kind of partner. Lillard isn’t exactly suffering, but ideally, Portland would be better defensively and make enough threes to keep the pressure off of their superstar, Fair enough.
But let’s pretend for a moment that Lillard isn’t in the backcourt. Pair Simons with Random Average NBA Guard. Do you like Ant better now? Odds are, you would. His ability to score would be a huge asset, necessary for any team to succeed in this era of the NBA. We’d be talking about the potential of his playmaking and floor-stretching. We’d be remembering him winning the 2021 All-Star Slam Dunk Contest and touting his athleticism. We’d surmise that this was only the beginning, and that the Blazers got a steal, acquiring Simons for a low first-rounder and keeping him on a reasonable contract. We’d be gloating over the 27-year-old Ant was going to grow into instead of complaining about the 23-year-old version he’s showing now.
That, in part, is why the Blazers [evidently] feel like they do. For them, Simons isn’t an easily-replaceable commodity. That’s true even now, let alone when he enters his prime.
What if Lillard doesn’t work out? What if age or injuries catch up to him? What if he ever wants to leave, even though he swears up and down that it’ll never happen?
This team has a bright line running down the middle between Lillard and everybody else, or at least between Lillard and a couple veterans versus the rest of the squad. On one side of that line stand the “win now” crew. They’re small in number, but Lillard makes them weighty by his mere presence. Remove that presence and precious little weight remains.
The other side of the line, the developmental crew, is led by Simons. If, for whatever reason, “win now” doesn’t work out, Simons is the fulcrum of the future. That doesn’t mean he’s the most talented player. That might turn out to be Shaedon Sharpe for all we know. It doesn’t mean he’s the most accomplished player. Jerami Grant looks to be stepping into that role. But removing Simons, leaving just Grant and Sharpe, leaves a huge hole and a bunch of speculation. Where’s the combo-skill guard who can hit threes and score off the dribble but still set up teammates?
Having been flooded with them over the last few years, Blazers fans have forgotten what it’s like to be without that kind of player. How many years did Portland burn draft picks on point guards? How many veterans and guard combos did they try? That era wasn’t pretty, even though much of it was spent with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge in tow.
Simons is Portland’s off-ramp onto a new highway. Without him, that exit is going to be a lot tighter. If the Blazers forego that possibility, they have to broaden the highway they’re on and make sure it leads directly to contention. If a Simons deal doesn’t do that, they’re not going to pursue it.
You’re absolutely correct that this doesn’t fix the 2022-23 season one bit. But current frustration doesn’t alleviate the need for future planning. Stopping the pain is a poor reason to make a trade in professional sports.
Right now, the Blazers don’t even have that much to cry about, except...oops! Too many guards who aren’t quite meshing together yet. If they can parlay that talent surplus into a more workable roster while keeping finances in check, I’ll bet they go for it. For now, Simons being “untouchable” doesn’t indicate that he’s the be all and end all of guards, but that they don’t see the road forward opening up with any deal that includes him right now. He’s worth more to their future than he’d bring in trade at present.
That’s a smart, fair stance to take. Until Mr. Championship comes available for a Simons package, I don’t expect they’ll move off it.
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