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 2 of the series, right here, covers centers, plus a few odds and ends. Part 1 covered major players who aren’t centers.
Want to know whether the Blazers can, would, or should acquire a player? Here’s the rundown.
Phoenix Suns center DeAndre Ayton has been in the rumor mill, and linked casually with Portland, since last summer. The 6’11 pivot currently averages 18.0 points and 10.2 rebounds in 29.9 minutes per game for the Suns. He was also the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. If his numbers don’t quite live up to the billing, well...they’re not shabby.
Ayton has been faulted for lack of aggressiveness, defense, and occasionally attitude. Still, there’s no denying that he’d be an upgrade at center for at least 25 NBA franchises, including Portland.
The question is, how badly does Phoenix want rid of him? This summer they seemed poised to make a deal, or at least seriously consider one. Ayton has performed fairly well this year. That’s calmed the buzz. You have to believe he’s still near the table, though, if not on it.
Teams don’t trade former ultra-high picks casually. Nor is Phoenix in rebuilding mode. They’re going to want players who can help them now, young if possible, and maybe draft compensation besides.
As chronicled in our last post, Portland cannot offer first-round draft picks unless they remove the protection from the pick they currently owe the Chicago Bulls, potentially ceding a lottery selection in a year that, by all accounts, holds a deep pool of talent. That option is probably out for now.
Jusuf Nurkic is available for trade. Josh Hart is too. That combination, sans extra draft picks, almost certainly won’t entice Phoenix. Would the Blazers be willing to throw in Shaedon Sharpe? Or would they offer a Nurkic-Anfernee Simons package, hoping the Suns would bite since Chris Paul is aging by the day? Nurkic and Jerami Grant would work salary-wise too. In fact, Ayton’s contract is so in Portland’s zone that a package of DeAndre and Jae Crowder in exchange for Nurkic, Simons, and Gary Payton II would also be workable.
If...and it’s a big if...Phoenix would look at these combinations, the Blazers would have to think about them, at least. They’re probably not ready to make the choice between Simons and Sharpe, but if they keep Damian Lillard on board, they have to know that choice is coming. Getting an upgrade at the center position might encourage them to make it sooner than planned. A potential future starting lineup of Ayton, Grant, Hart, Simons or Sharpe, and Lillard might be worth going into the luxury tax for even if their current one isn’t.
This deal probably isn’t a live possibility, but it’s something to keep an eye on now, and again next summer.
The Blazers were mentioned in conjunction with Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins a couple of years ago, and gentle speculation has wafted through the air since.
It feels like Collins has been in the NBA forever, but he’s only 25, in his sixth season overall. He’s scoring 13.2 points per game on a career-low 51.0% field goal percentage, but those numbers aren’t horrible. They’re just not enough for Atlanta, where he’s considered an ill fit.
Even so, Collins is not shooting the three-pointer well (25.3% against a career average of 35.6%) and he’s never been known as a defender. Those factors, plus reduced scoring, conspire to make this discussion valid in 2021, not so much in 2023.
Collins would be a fine addition in terms of aggregate talent, especially if the Blazers could get him cheap. But he’s not going to solve Portland’s problems and it’s hard to imagine him doing better at power forward than Jerami Grant is. If Portland isn’t committed to re-signing Grant, that’s one thing, but it’s hard to see why paying $25 million to Collins is better than paying $28 million to the forward they already have.
In casual discussion, the Blazers have been linked with Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba, Detroit Pistons pivot Nerlens Noel, and—at least here—Washington Wizards power forward/center Daniel Gafford.
The 28-year-old Noel has veteran savvy, but has only played in 13 games this season (after 25 all of last year). His production is nowhere near where it used to be. He also makes over $9 million on a contract with a team option this summer. He’d be a one-year rental, an “any port in the storm” get.
As discussed in our last post, that $9-10 million range is no-man’s-land for the Trail Blazers. They’d either need to overpay, using Hart, or combine multiple young players to match that contract. Unless Noel were part of a bigger deal, it makes no sense.
Bamba also lives in that $10 million range, but he’s only 24 and has growth potential ahead of him. The Blazers might be able to finagle a deal that makes sense for a legit 7-footer with shot-blocking and rebounding potential. Bamba also shoots the three pretty well for a center, a bonus.
Gafford does no such thing, never even attempting one. But he’s also 24, an energy player, shot-blocker, and rebounder who could pair well with any lineup. His ultra-efficient 74% conversion rate from the floor doesn’t hurt either.
Gafford makes only $1.7 million. It’s a good bet the Blazers would need to throw in incentives to make a deal work, perhaps a combo trade where they take on disappointing forward Will Barton. The avenue is pretty narrow, though. This is like looking at a pickle on a stranger’s plate at the restaurant and saying, “Are you going to eat that?”
This would be a really nice get for the Trail Blazers. The San Antonio Spurs have loved their 7’1 center right up until this very moment. A few things are conspiring against him remaining in San Antonio. His contract ends this summer. He’s 27, out of step with the timeline of his rebuilding franchise. His defense and production have slipped this year. Most of all, the Spurs need star power. Poeltl is one of the best role-players in the league, but he’s not going to carry a bad team himself.
Several of those factors would make Poeltl a good fit in Portland. They need a good two-way center with experience who won’t insist upon the limelight. That describes Poeltl neatly.
Here are the “buts”. The Spurs are asking a lot. Even if they were to cut back their request, they’ll still require a first-round draft pick that the Blazers don’t have. If San Antonio doesn’t want a 27-year-old role player, they won’t be interested in a 28-year-old Jusuf Nurkic or an almost-28-year-old Hart. They’d probably love a high-octane Blazers guard, but Portland wouldn’t trade a budding star guard to get a non-star center.
Add that to the Blazers then facing down two, and possibly three, starters in need of new contracts in the summer—presuming Poeltl comes on board—and this is probably a difficult move.
Somebody else will offer San Antonio a better deal. But If Portland could get Poeltl reasonably, they should.
Among the other players mentioned in conjunction with Portland are...
- 27-year-old Cavaliers small forward Cedi Osman, $7.4 million (decent all-around player, good offense, not as good defense)
- 25-year-old Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac, $17.4 million (2017 lottery pick returning from ACL injury after two years off, used to block shots, now shoots threes)
- 21-year-old Magic point guard Jalen Suggs, $6.9 million (2021 lottery pick, good defender, can’t hit a shot)
- 26-year-old Jazz shooting guard Malik Beasley, $15.5 million (veteran, decent defender, three-point shot declining, and another shooting guard...really?)
- 31-year-old Spurs forward Doug McDermott, $13.8 million (lots of shooting, consummate role player, could be an interesting get as a reserve but they’d have to trade Hart or Nurkic to make salaries work)
- 29-year-old Kings center Richaun Holmes, $11.2 million (decent defender, efficient scorer, not a shot blocker but might be worth a look, though he plays only 9 minutes per game for the Kings)
- 31-year-old Jazz center Kelly Olynyk, $12.8 million (shooter, veteran)
Most of these players should be obtainable, but many are also on the last years of their contracts, which make them better candidates for mid-level-exception signings this summer than trades right now. None of them are needle-movers in themselves. The most tantalizing candidates are battling injury recovery and slumps, which is part of why they’re available. Also, in these contract ranges, the Blazers would once again be trading starters for unknown quantities or bench players. That doesn’t seem to fit the “win now” aims presumed if they’re going to make deals at the deadline.
Could the Blazers Be Sellers?
I don’t think Portland will bail on talent—even talent with expiring contracts—just to go laterally this week. They might “sell off” assets as a prelude to other moves, however. They could make a salary-dumping trade to take them farther away from the luxury tax threshold (they’re currently just below it) in order to facilitate a second, salary-increasing trade without going into tax territory. They could also try to obtain a first-round pick, presumably low, as a way of freeing up other trade possibilities they can’t approach now for lack of same.
The other kind of move they could make, inherent in many of the above discussions, is trading a more talented player with a short-term contract for a serviceable future player who’d last longer. Obviously they’d only do that if they didn’t think they could retain the current player, or didn’t want to.
Plenty of trade possibilities await the Blazers over the next 36 hours. Not all of them are good. The best ones are hard to reach for one reason or another: lack of draft picks, lack of matching salaries, asking price too high.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blazers make a deal at the deadline. I’d be surprised if they could pull off one that changed the course of the current season. They’re probably looking at nibbling around the edges of the roster, setting themselves up long-term, or waiting until summer when more palatable trades—and more ways to execute them—come forward.