The Portland Trail Blazers have underwhelmed this season, and are in desperate need of defense and size come summer time. To remedy the situation, Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report went to the drawing board and produced a logical trade that could cough up some offense and youth in exchange for defense, length and size.
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Mikal Bridges and Royce O’Neale
Brooklyn Nets receive: Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, 2024 second-round pick (via CHA or MIN) and 2025 first-round pick (top-three protected)
To rationalize his movements on the chessboard, Buckley had this to say:
“Portland doesn’t have a ton of chips to push around, but if it sends out the lottery-protected pick it owes the Chicago Bulls this summer, that would open the possibility of trading away the 2025 first. It could also put the Blazers in line to make a bold move for Mikal Bridges, who could team with Jerami Grant (assuming he’s re-signed) to form exactly the kind of lanky, athletic, two-way wing tandem Portland has long needed around [Damian] Lillard,” Buckley said.
“Bridges’ ceiling sits somewhere between stardom and starring in his role, but having Lillard as an elite alpha could give Portland a championship-level pecking order. The Blazers would need to fill in the cracks around these three, but netting three-and-D swingman Royce O’Neale in this exchange would be a start.”
For the first time in franchise history, the Blazers have three players — Lillard (32.3 PPG), Simons (21.1 PPG) and Grant (20.8 PPG) — averaging 20 points or better per contest. However great their individual efforts have been, it has not contributed to winning.
Their offense is No. 14 in the league at 114.9 points per game, and their defense coughs up 115.5 points per contest, good for No. 19 in the association. Swapping Simons for Bridges would give the blazers a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who is as good a perimeter defender as any player in the league, most notably being the runner-up for the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
Bridges has shown the propensity to score the basketball, as he’s averaged 23.4 points per game in his seven appearances with the Brooklyn Nets this year. While Simons also makes plays out of the pick-and-roll and shares ball handling duties with Lillard, the trade-off for a defensive pillar in Bridges, who is capable of similar offensive output, is immeasurable.
Also included in the deal is Royce O’Neale in exchange for Shaedon Sharpe. Sharpe has given Blazers fans glimpses of what the future can hold, as an uber-athletic two guard that can spot up from three-point range and get his own shot off the dribble.
Sharpe has shown rawness that comes with being a rookie, also tremendous upside. O’Neal has not been known for his offensive game, but is in the midst of a career year, averaging 8.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 39.7 percent shooting from the floor.
From an impartial perspective, the deal is not likely to make Nets general manager Sean Marks salivate. The look on Bridges’ face when Jared Greenberg interviewed him upon being moved from the Phoenix Suns to the Nets spoke of disappointment and hurt. Yet, he has been a consummate professional and has upped his game as one of the new vanguards of the team. Moving the jewel of the deal that sent Kevin Durant out of town would come at a heavy price.
Marks would be compromising much defense in exchange for comparable offense. To make matters worse, adding two shooting guards to the rotation would leave an odd man out between Simons, Sharpe and the burgeoning Cam Thomas.
The addition of Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson gives Brooklyn a crowded depth chart at combo forward. Ben Simmons is still on the roster and Yuta Watanabe — once the league leader in three-point percentage — waits for a crack in the door to re-enter the rotation. This provides Marks with enough redundancy to move one of the aforementioned wing players.
The Blazers would get the longer end of the stick in this transaction, even considering the two future first-round picks being traded. If Portland were able to move and shake their way into obtaining Bridges, they’d become exponentially better overnight.
Making a push for Simmons would benefit Portland more than getting O’Neale. One cannot teach 6-foot-10 with elite playmaking and rebounding abilities to match eye-opening agility. The time may never be better than now to buy low on the former No. 1 overall pick who has found his way out of Brooklyn’s starting lineup for the second time this season.
While allocating a career-high amount of fouls per game (3.3), Simmons can return to All-Star level in a conducive environment, on a team with a leader such as Lillard and Head Coach Chauncey Billups. Nevertheless, Portland figures to be active in the offseason to make a stronger push in 2024.