The Portland Trail Blazers are struggling through the final months of the 2022-23 season, once again outside the serious playoffs picture, looking at other teams poised to succeed in April and May. As hopes of a serious postseason run get buried under frustrating losses, Portland fans are looking forward to the next step as the Blazers try to build around superstar Damian Lillard.
Over the last couple weeks, one name has appeared more often, and with more energy, than any other: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. If the Sixers decide to part with their franchise cornerstone, could the Blazers be poised to snag him? That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
I keep seeing Joel Embiid mentioned as the next big trade. Is this real?? I want him badly and we should give up anything but Dame to get him. Do you agree? What would it cost? Do you believe this finally is the answer?
I believe that this move, or one like it, is the intention this summer. So let’s define terms.
Portland’s off-season plan is to trade for the league’s second-leading scorer (sometimes first), a center who is routinely mentioned in earnest discussions about who’s better: himself or the reigning MVP. This player is also second in the league in efficiency, Top-10 in rebounding, and plays at the single rarest position for excellence in the NBA.
That’s a big target for a team whose trades over the last two seasons have—for good reason—mostly set them backwards rather than forwards. They wanted to make this kind of move at this trade deadline. They couldn’t. Nor have they for the last two decades plus.
The Blazers will have more pieces to move this off-season, it’s true. They’re set up, as best they can, to take a big swing.
This particular swing would depend on several factors.
The first is whether Embiid is actually available. Philadelphia will be entering a de facto rebuild if they move him. That’s a franchise-changing decision every bit as much as Portland acquiring him would be.
For that reason, if he’s available, the cost would be steep. The Blazers have to get somewhere near Embiid’s supermax salary, estimated at $47 million. Portland also has to give up young talent. Philly is going to want future draft picks as well. Reading tea leaves, that probably looks like Anfernee Simons AND Shaedon Sharpe, plus Jusuf Nurkic, plus future draft picks or swaps.
Philadelphia can’t trade Embiid twice. They have one shot to make good if they make this move. Paying the necessary price, Portland would also be locked into the aftermath of the deal. They’d be mortgaging their current flexibility, a huge chunk of their talent pipeline, and their ability to restock same to make this swap a reality.
For that, the Blazers would get a center with all the qualities mentioned above: 33 points and 10 rebounds per game, 53% shooting from the floor, 64% True Shooting Percentage. The high risk comes with an incredible reward.
Presuming Portland also kept Jerami Grant, they’d have a Big 3 of Embiid, Lillard, and Grant, with Matisse Thybulle and Nassir Little as the next players below the gap. It’s a top-heavy lineup, but they’d also have plenty of scoring and defense, with rebounding and efficiency besides. The same young, inexpensive athletes who aren’t sufficient to plug the holes in the current roster would suddenly look smart, both in style of play and cap cost. In retrospect, we’d probably be able to say that the Blazers were angling for just this possibility when they acquired players like Thybulle and Cam Reddish.
Given their current performance and the oft-repeated aim to build around Lillard, making a move like this would not only make sense, it’d be a no-brainer.
Three issues remain:
- Will Embiid remain healthy? The 28-year-old center was drafted in 2014 and has spent nine seasons in the NBA. He’s played 60+ games in only three of those years. The Blazers selling their future for a player who can’t suit up would be a cataclysmic disaster.
- How many draft picks are we talking and how protected are they? If the Sixers would accept Little instead of a future first-rounder, that’d help. The more picks the Blazers save, the more insurance they have against failure. But remember, Philadelphia is not going to cheap out on this deal.
- The same issue we started with: is this trade even a possibility? And what happens if it isn’t?
The league isn’t populated with Joel Embiid Mark II, III, and IV. If Portland can’t reach their target, the choices become much less palatable.
They still have a super-attractive trade package to offer. Offloading those players in a deal that doesn’t bring Embiid’s talent in return would be foolish. But if they don’t make a striking move, their claims about building a contender for Dame would be revealed as either false or unachievable.
This is the scary part if you’re a Blazers fan. Would you rather see your team flail at a player or two that make you feel good now, but don’t ultimately bring a ring, or would you rather they throw their hands up and start to rebuild? Those are the only choices I see.
Neither one is great, and the only path around them involves making a once-in-a-lifetime deal to bring an All-NBA, potential-MVP generational talent to your team smack in the middle of his prime.
I’ll celebrate this deal when I see it done. (With a big gulp if the outgoing package is as big as we’ve described, because this BETTER work...) But I’m going to wait until I actually see it before I start rejoicing, or even seriously considering it. Common sense says it will be tricky and expensive as heck.
Since we’re talking about this, though, here’s one thing I am committed to. We’ve just set the bar on what the Blazers need. If this deal—or one exactly as impactful—can’t be done, can we stop pretending? Can we not get a case of collective amnesia, claiming that lesser players we’d get in back-up deals will do the same thing as Embiid would? Can we not jump to the next pie-in-the-sky hope that’s not happening? And for the sake of all that’s good and holy, can we not spend a bloody fortune, flushing the franchise’s future to try an keep a vow that’s not going to come true? Can we instead re-evaluate the direction we’re headed in and just start telling the truth about that?
Ideally, I’d love a championship for the Blazers in this generation. But if that’s not achievable, I’d like a sense of confidence that the plan forward is actually a plan, not grasping at the same hopes that every team with out a workable strategy has. (Hint: Every franchise outside of Denver would also like Joel Embiid.) Also, I’d love to hear some truth-telling if the dream doesn’t materialize, rather than watching the franchise say one thing and then move in a contrary direction, hoping for reconciliation in vague summers and trade deadlines to come.
Thanks for the question! You can always send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to answer!