The 2023 NBA Trade Deadline is a day away and NBA Trade Rumors are flying thick and fast. The Portland Trail Blazers stand in the midst of the storm, a low- to mid-playoffs team trying to get into secure position in a crowded Western Conference.
Whether it’s about the Trail Blazers or 29 other NBA teams, trade news will be on the way soon. Before it hits, we’re presenting a two-part series evaluating every player and trade the Trail Blazers have been linked with over the past month.
Part 1 of the series, right here, will cover major players who aren’t centers. Part 2, covers all the centers, plus a few odds and ends.
Want to know whether the Blazers can, would, or should acquire a player? Here’s the rundown.
This is the most solid proposition out there at the moment. The fifth-year forward-center is inexpensive and defensively-apt, two qualities the Blazers would value highly. His 6’9 height doesn’t hurt, especially if he’s playing power forward spot. He’d be a good get.
That’s wholly different from saying he’d be the answer for Portland. Vanderbilt can defend the perimeter well. He rebounds. He is not a three-point shooter, nor is he a scorer.
It feels like the Blazers have played this game before. Adding a non-scoring, mediocre-shooting forward who helps the defense but nerfs the offense doesn’t get the team ahead. Plus, what about Justise Winslow, Trendon Watford, and Jabari Walker? The Blazers have a lot of young forwards waiting in the wings. What happens to them might not matter in the long run, but if you’re baking a recipe and already have three types of flour, buying another bag of flour might not be the solution. Get you some sugar too, otherwise this isn’t going to work.
Acquiring Vanderbilt would be fine, a nice upside gamble and immediate defensive help. What the Blazers do next, or in addition, also matters.
Obviously the cost does too. Trading Josh Hart for Vanderbilt would require taking back other pieces to make salaries match. That’s probably not on the table, but if it becomes reality, look for Rudy Gay to be mentioned.
Nassir Little has been brought up as a possible trade candidate. He’s listed at 6’5; Vanderbilt is obviously bigger. But Little has a jump shot out to three-point land and also boasts defensive potential, albeit not as developed as Vanderbilt’s. Little is 22, a year younger than JV. Given the team’s situation, this feels like more of a lateral move than a step ahead. If Little leaves and Josh Hart is traded or departs at the end of the season, who’s up next at small forward?
If the Blazers can get in below the Little Line, trading for Vanderbilt is a no-brainer. So, too, if they have no better deals for Hart and don’t believe they can keep him.
Otherwise, Portland will need to consider expense versus how much Vanderbilt changes this team. This deal should get done, if possible. There’s too much potential upside to ignore. But regarding Vanderbilt as a panacea or “at all costs’ move would be a mistake. It might turn out to be a big trade in hindsight, but it might just be more of the same.
The Big Dreams
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Vanderbilt are mega-stars like Pascal Siakam and Kevin Durant. These are dream acquisitions for every fan base and, as such, are mentioned almost every trade season.
Unfortunately, the Blazers aren’t poised to make this kind of deal. They’ve given no indications of willingness to trade young prospects Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons. The players they could dangle—Hart and Jusuf Nurkic—aren’t anywhere close to enough to get the Blazers in the room, let alone get a mega-trade done.
Worst of all, Portland is hamstrung when it comes to first-round picks. They shipped off a conditional first-rounder to the Chicago Bulls a couple summers ago for forward Larry Nance, Jr. Protections on that pick run through 2028, effectively preventing the Blazers from dealing first-rounders between now and then unless the situation changes.
The easiest way to change that scenario would be to remove protections, giving Chicago the pick this year no matter what, even if it falls in the lottery. I bet you can guess the problem with that. It begins with “Victor” and ends with, “Wembanyohmygod I can’t believe you made that move!”
Add it all up and it makes way more sense for the Blazers to pursue this kind of deal in the summer, when they have more (or at least clearer) assets free. They’re going to need to throw in multiple first-rounders and/or swaps in order to make a huge trade. If they can do it now and they really feel the target is can’t-miss, going through the gymnastics and risks to make it happen would be worth it. Odds are overwhelming that the opportunity won’t present itself and that the price would make Portland think twice if it did.
The Toronto Raptors have been a constant source of trade rumors this year. Underperforming while carrying a talent-heavy roster will do that for you.
Assuming Siakam is off the table, O.G. Anunoby is the next player up in the desirability sweepstakes. The 25-year-old small forward is a serious candidate for NBA All-Defensive recognition this year. He’s on a reasonable, high-teens contract. He has championship experience. At 6’7 he’d give the Blazers height, defensive range, and point-of-attack intimidation on defense that they currently lack.
Though Anunoby averages almost 17 points a game, he’s an average three-point shooter. He’s only played 70+ games once in his five previous seasons, reaching 74 in his rookie year. He played 43 (out of 72) in 2020-21 and 48 in 2021-22. He’s nursing a wrist injury as we speak.
There’s no doubt Anunoby, in the abstract, would make Portland better. The questions are: How much? In what ways? And at what cost?
If he could play most of the season and hit open threes, O.G. might transform this team. If he can’t fulfill either of those criteria, his value becomes less. Either way, his reasonably similar to experiments Portland has tried before with Hart, Al-Farouq Aminu, Trevor Ariza, and so on. He’s younger and more athletic. He turns it up to 11. Being the archetypal example of a so-so experiment does not make the experiment work...or at least not automatically.
Still, Anunoby would be well worth a try, save for that last question about cost. Toronto is rumored to want an arm and two legs (plus a kidney and a box of Popeye’s Chicken Sandwiches) for the small forward. Portland can offer Josh Hart. Portland can also offer Shaedon Sharpe or Anfernee Simons if they can get the salaries to match in a bigger deal. Toronto will probably want a draft pick too. Portland doesn’t have those.
Or, if the Raptors think Sharpe is enough, maybe the Blazers should ask why and then consider whether Anunoby really is the definitive answer that would justify such a deal.
For these reasons, this trade goes down as, “Good, but not likely to be made.” At least not right now.
The Blazers, along with every other “buying” team in the universe, have been mentioned in conjunction with Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder. The 32-year-old veteran is sitting out the season, embroiled in a simmering dispute with the Suns over playing time and role. He’s in the final year of his contract, owed $10.2 million.
Crowder is a spotty shooter and a mediocre scorer, but his defense and court sense are both positives. It’s likely the Suns would trade him for half a bag of circus peanuts at this point.
That innocuous-seeming contract holds implications for the Blazers, though. They need to match or reduce salary in any but the most transformational trades, as they’re $67,000 below the luxury tax line and don’t want to go over.
Crowder’s $10 million contract falls into a compensation desert for Portland. Josh Hart makes $13 million. They could swap small forwards and fulfill the money-saving criteria. But the whole reason for trading Hart is his own potentially-expiring contract at the end of the year. Why would they trade a 27-year-old, jack-of-all-trades starting small forward for a 32-year-old, slightly broken, not nearly so skilled one who would likely come off the bench in an ideal world?
If they don’t trade Hart for Crowder straight up, the Blazers would be forced to cobble together contracts in the $2-4 million range to make the deal work. That would require a 3-for-1 trade that the Suns don’t have roster room for and the Blazers wouldn’t make anyway.
Justise Winslow and Nassir Little and Keon Johnson seems a bit much to trade for one Jae Crowder at this point. Gary Payton II and Johnson doesn’t necessarily make the story better. The Blazers would gain size, but not necessarily defense.
A Crowder trade is far from impossible, but it seems like it’d have to be part of a bigger exchange. Or, well, it’d just end up weird.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of the series, where we cover centers and various odds and ends.