The Portland Trail Blazers are caught between a rock and a hard place regarding what to do with their No. 3 pick at this summer’s NBA Draft.
Keep the pick, and risk the trouble of upsetting your franchise Hall-of-Famer Damian Lillard by not getting veteran help for a playoff push. Move it in a trade package and risk the double-trouble of gutting your assets and future for a roster that might not hit lofty aspirations of contending in a tight window.
As with any difficult decision, outside speculation about what Portland will do has run rampant since the ping-pong balls popped out and it likely won’t cease until draft night. Insert Bleacher Report’s latest trade scenario piece from writers Dan Favale and Grant Hughes, which identified two “ambitious” trade targets for the pick: Brandon Ingram or Pascal Siakam.
The Ingram idea was actually written from the New Orleans Pelicans’ perspective, with Hughes thinking a high-end rookie prospect could give the franchise a safety plan if the oft-injured Zion Williamson can’t remain on the floor. Include Blazers guard Anfernee Simons in the package, if the Pelicans can get off CJ McCollum’s contract elsewhere — where have I seen this movie before? — and Hughes thought New Orleans may pull the trigger.
But this is about thinking big, so a deal for Portland’s No. 3 pick and at least one of its other high-end assets is where we have to start. If the Pelicans put Brandon Ingram on the table, he alone might be enough to bring back No. 3 and Anfernee Simons. Moving McCollum elsewhere would leave New Orleans in an an even better position.
Simons (38.7 percent for his career) and McCollum (39.5 percent) share comparable three-point accuracy, but the former offers significantly more volume (8.5 attempts per 36 minutes to McCollum’s 6.8) and the upside of youth and a cheaper price tag. If Zion Williamson is to spend the lion’s share of time on the ball, Simons’ quick-trigger sniping might add more value than McCollum’s dribble-heavy game. And with that No. 3 pick replacing Ingram on the roster, New Orleans could quietly add a potential cornerstone for the worst-case scenario of Zion never staying healthy.
To give this trade suggestion credit, it is at least innovative. Ingram isn’t one of the usual suspects to appear in the plethora of hypothetical trade stories coming out. Plus, with an All-Star appearance to his name and a career-high average of 24.7 points per game this season, he does get closer to that “elite small forward” description Portland is reported to be looking for. But this scenario is asking a lot from the Pelicans front office in terms of franchise direction. They’d essentially be moving their contending timeline several years down the road by getting rid of a key veteran like Ingram. For a team that vaulted to No. 1 in the West early in the season and rarely had its core healthy at the same time, it’s unlikely New Orleans is this eager to give up on its roster.
The other idea, trading the third pick as part of a package for Siakam, is a much more common hypothetical. Hughes wrote Siakam’s combination of size, scoring and defense is exactly what Portland needs.
Coming off a career-high 24.2 points and 5.8 assists per game, Siakam would give Lillard his most decorated and productive teammate since LaMarcus Aldridge—one who could man the small-ball center spot, create his own shots and work some matchup-hunting magic in the high screen game.
Toronto may lose both Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. in free agency. Adding Simons and/or Sharpe would reset the team’s timeline and add much-needed athleticism from the guard spots. Whether Portland would be willing to part with both Sharpe and the No. 3 overall pick is unclear; Sharpe enjoyed a little-noticed leap down the stretch for a tanking Blazers squad last year and may have the best physical tools of anyone in the 2022 draft class.
Then again, if Portland is as serious about supporting Dame as its email to fans suggests, it might be willing to give up almost anything.
Siakam, a two-time All-NBA honoree and NBA champion for the Toronto Raptors, at least returns to Portland the necessary talent required to move such a high draft pick in a loaded class. Or at least it gets closer to that sweet spot. But how much else does Toronto want? Siakam is entering the final year of his contract, so franchises dealing for him run the risk of receiving a one-year rental. Does that risk drive Toronto’s bargaining power down enough where he could be gotten for a sensible price?
Just over a month of speculation awaits us until Draft Day.