The Portland Trail Blazers sit 12th in the tough Western Conference in a year that sees the 6th seed and the 13th seed separated by just 3 games. That means that as the trade deadline approaches the Blazers face plenty of difficult decisions. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor asks four questions that he thinks will define the Blazers’ deadline.
O’Connor’s initial questions focus on what he defines as the Blazers’ biggest weakness: center play.
Jusuf Nurkic has become the Blazers’ weakest link. The 28-year-old has lost a step following a long list of injuries. His effort and intensity waver too. Diminishing athletes must always compensate with heart, but he fails to contest shots, gets out-rebounded, and mopes around the court.
However, he does mention there are very few possible replacements on the market.
As shaky as Nurkic has been, there aren’t a lot of options out there besides someone like Jakob Poeltl or Mo Bamba. Poeltl is the better rim protector of the two and a better player than Nurkic overall. Bamba provides better shooting but is unproven in a winning context. Neither of them are guaranteed to move the needle on Portland’s defense from the bottom of the league to somewhere near the middle.
He goes on to talk about how the first round pick still owed to the Chicago Bulls makes any possible trade much harder to work out a trade. He mentions that it is possible to lift the restrictions on the pick, but risky given the Blazers’ current spot in the standings.
The main issue Portland is facing is a lack of tradable assets. In 2021, then general manager Neil Olshey acquired Larry Nance Jr. for a protected first-round pick that was sent to the Bulls. But the pick was lottery protected every year from 2022 through 2028, meaning the Blazers can’t trade more than one of their own future first-round picks due to NBA rules preventing teams from not having a first in subsequent years.
The Blazers could call the Bulls and offer to make the 2023 pick unprotected, thus freeing their ability to trade all of their future draft picks. Or, the protections could be tweaked so that the 2024 pick becomes unprotected, thus freeing all picks in 2026 and beyond. This would be advantageous to the Bulls, of course. But it would only make sense for the Blazers if there’s an available deal that they really want to do.