The current Portland Trail Blazers roster will almost certainly look different when they return to the NBA Playoffs someday. Many of Portland’s younger pieces may remain, but a handful of the current veterans could soon be moved to bring back young prospects and draft picks to progress the rebuild.
Before the season, we speculated that the four veterans most likely moved were Malcolm Brogdon, Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons and Robert Williams III. Unfortunately, for Williams III and the Blazers, his season-ending knee surgery likely puts a hold on any transaction through the duration of the 2023-24 season.
For Brogdon, Grant and Simons, their respective Portland tenures are a little less predictable. Their worth to one or more of the other 29 franchises at the February 8 trade deadline will depend on a range of factors, including their contracts, the would-be suitors’ place in the standings, and the available assets they’re prepared to part with.
As far as timing is concerned, there are two dates to keep an eye on. December 15th, a large portion of the players who signed new deals last summer can be traded. On January 15, players like Grant, who re-signed using Bird or Early Bird rights and received a raise greater than 20 percent, can be moved.
Let’s take a closer look at our likely trade candidates.
Age: 30 Position: Guard Contract (including this season): Two years, $45 million
Adequate Return: First round pick, a young prospect, salary filler.
No pundit, Portland-based or otherwise, expected Brogdon to see the season out in Portland. Nothing appears to have changed that thinking. Arriving in the transaction that sent Jrue Holiday to the Boston Celtics, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year makes sense on any team with lofty expectations or hoping to shake things up after a poor start.
The 30-year-old, who is set to return from a hamstring strain imminently, has another very reasonable year on his contract in 2024-25, while arguably still being in his prime. Through eight games this season, Brogdon ranks first among combo guards in assist percentage, assisting on 35.2 percent of his teammates’ shots. He’s third in defensive rebound rate, securing 13.5 percent of available boards. He’s also sixth in turnover rate, averaging 1.6 an outing.
More than the stats, the former Rookie of the Year is a level-headed facilitator, with NBA smarts and deep Playoff experience. He was a big part of a Celtics franchise that competed in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals and you’d have to imagine he wants to be back with a contender, despite what he tells Portland media.
Age: 29 Position: Power Forward Contract (including this season): Five years, $160 million (can’t be traded until January 15)
Adequate Return: Protected first round pick, a decent young player, salary filler.
Grant got the bag in early July, securing a lucrative five-year, $160 million deal that will see him past his 34th birthday. The Blazers brought back the former Syracuse standout as a possible trade asset after parting with a first round pick to get him from the Detroit Pistons a season ago. This year, Grant ranks 18th among forwards in the midrange beyond 14 feet at 48 percent. He also ranks 20th in blocks, sending back 1.3 percent of opposition shots, and 11th in getting to the line, fouled on 13.8 percent of his shots.
Grant’s contract might not be the most team friendly, but with the way he has opened the season, money might not be an issue for a potential trade partner with a Finals trip in their expectations. He’s effective on both sides of the ball and has been competently carrying the offensive load for the injury-plagued Blazers through the early part of the season.
Grant hasn’t appeared on a decent roster since the 2019-20 Denver Nuggets and may flourish through his late 20s and early 30s on a winner before he starts to decline.
Age: 24 Position: Guard Contract (including this season): Three years, $77 million
Adequate Return: First round pick, two decent young players, salary filler.
Five months ago, rumors were swirling about Portland trading Simons alongside Portland’s third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to bring back help for Damian Lillard. That all changed when the Blazers selected and kept Scoot Henderson, Lillard left and this team went young. But if rumors of Simons' availability were true, General Manager Joe Cronin may not be adverse to parting with the young guard.
The former 24th pick has only played the one game this season thanks to a thumb injury suffered on opening night. That will waylay him until mid-December. Last season he ranked 26th among combo guards in free throw attempts at 89.4 percent, 26th in effective field goal percentage at 43.8 percent and 26th in points per shot attempts at 1.17.
As much as I appreciate Simons and the offensive leadership he brings to this team, he will almost certainly be displaced by Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe. Sharpe may have already eclipsed Simons’ raw ability. Henderson still needs time for the game to slow down, developing a shot off the dribble and becoming relatively consistent on the defensive end. But there is no doubt the 19-year-old will be an above-average starting level point guard at some point.
If moved, Simons would provide instant offense on a contender, either as a starter or a microwave scorer off the bench. His contract is more than fine as a starter and passable for someone coming off the pine.
Of the trio, Brogdon is the most likely to be moved before February 8. His skill set, experience, team-friendly deal and ability to plug and play pretty much anywhere will no doubt be attractive to contending franchises.
As for Simons and Grant, I’ve written this next sentence five different times. But I think if I had to bet, I’d take Simons being moved before Grant. While Grant is older and more likely to have an impact on both ends for a real contender, Simons makes a lot more sense in a trade given the current makeup of the Blazers and their future Henderson-Sharpe backcourt. The only caveat is Henderson, who needs to acclimate to the NBA game quickly if the Blazers are going to part with Simons by February.
Simon’s contract is fine, he’s young and still has room to grow his offensive repertoire. He’s also the last remaining player added by former executive Neil Olshey.
Grant may be traded down the line but I’m just not sure there’s as much urgency, especially with his current understudies being first and second year players in Jabari Walker, Kris Murray and Toumani Camara.
Anything can happen in the days and hours before the trade deadline. No matter what happens, it’s safe to say the rebuilding Blazers will be active as General Manager Joe Cronin continues to remake this team.