With the Portland Trail Blazers slowly drifting out of the 2023 NBA Playoffs picture, attention is turning to the NBA Draft in June and, just as significantly, to the upcoming trade and free agent period in July. Portland will be capped out and limited in their ability to sign players, but the possibility of a big trade burns like a torch in the darkness of the minds of Blazers fans.
That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question, a little bit of a gimme, but still important in setting parameters and expectations for the summer ahead.
It looks as though another year is in the books for the Blazers, and not in a good way either. GM Joe Cronin has talked about eventually “pushing in all his chips” in order to capitalize on a big trade. It seems to me that with Dame still playing like an all-world player (but still getting up in years — the clock is ticking!) the time to do something BIG is this summer. Presuming our “chips” include a package of Simons, Nurkic, & Sharpe plus a plethora of picks and pick swaps, what all star/super star player might realistically be gettable for Portland this offseason besides the oft-talked about Joel Embiid?
There’s always next year
Yeah, let’s talk about this.
There’s a reason we’re all starting to stack up draft picks like so many coupon codes, plus lining up all the players off the team that could possibly be spared, all to take a swing at a perhaps-discontented Joel Embiid. That reason lies in twin realities:
- Embiid is a superlative basketball player.
- That’s the only kind of player who’s going to turn the ship around at this point.
If the Blazers were close to contention or if they had a long-term window to try for it, these kind of offers would seem nonsensical. “Why would we trade away seven draft picks and three good-to-great prospects for a single guy? Mortgage our present AND foreseeable future? That’s idiotic!”
Portland’s window isn’t just short, it’s immediate. Judging by this season’s performance, the distance between them and a title isn’t just long, it’s Grand Canyon-esque. Under those conditions, trading the farm for Embiid makes sense.
There’s a shadow side to that realization. It makes sense because only a player of that caliber will do. There are no substitutes or consolation prizes. Obviously Portland could trade away those shiny picks in ones and twos for lesser-level players who would help them rise from outside the play-in picture to low-mid-bracket status. The destination wouldn’t be worth the cost. They have to make the giant leap. That requires a giant player.
Knowing this, you can almost answer your own question. Is Giannis available? How about Kevin Durant or Nikola Jokic? What’s LeBron’s long-term status? We could list a couple others, but you get it. If that player coming back doesn’t go by one name and make you jump out of your seat, it’s not the same deal.
Knowing that, you can gauge the likelihood of the Blazers actually pulling this off. “Realistically be gettable” doesn’t really belong in this discussion. We’re hoping for miracles, watching for NBA Santa to stuff something down the chimney.
I don’t mean to be discouraging. I’m curious to see if they can pull it off. But we already know it’s a high-wire act with no net: entertaining to watch, but you wouldn’t want to be the guy in slippers up there.
The next best version of the Big Trade Plan would be getting someone like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, or (for some) OG Anunoby, who offers hope that if the team gels quickly, they might be relevant. Overpaying for that kind of player might be more dangerous than just getting another solid piece to replace the departed Josh Hart and letting them run it back again with lower cost in future assets.
As I’ve said before, I hope they don’t do either.
One of two things is true. Either the Blazers will get the player who vaults them into immediate, inarguable contention or they won’t. If they can’t make that leap, the only choices left will be to face reality and change the plan or keep pretending for another season. Both those futures are scary. That’s why, for now, curling up on the couch hugging the teddy bear of a possible superstar trade is the best, or at least most comforting, option.
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