The Portland Trail Blazers are rumored to be active on the 2023 NBA trade market, dangling the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft, shooting guard Anfernee Simons, and other assets to try and land a big fish to swim next to seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard. The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag has been overwhelmed with questions about the possibility, and suitability, of Portland’s supposed targets in this year’s swap circus. Even those inquiries couldn’t cover the scope of players the Blazers have been linked to.
As we reset before Thursday’s draft—with its potential for early news of trade plans—we’re going to rank the major players whirling around Portland in the media circus. Some of these have come from national sources, others local. A few have appeared in the ether subtly, like a dog passing gas in a mini-van. Either way, here are our fairly-reasonable guesses about the potential for each player in Portland.
Today we’re going to cover the less-attractive prospects. Tomorrow we’ll delve into the deals that might have a ghost of a chance of working.
I’m not sure where this came from, but apparently there’s a suggestion of the third pick for Kristaps Porzingis out there. If you took a million Neil Olsheys and locked them in a room for a million years, you could hardly come up with a worse exchange. Porzingis is not a game-changing defender. Don’t let those blocks fool you. His per-36 numbers last year equaled Jusuf Nurkic’s career average, and Nurk isn’t exactly known as a shot-blocking intimidator. Porzingis is on the last year of a $36 million contract, meaning the Blazers would need to send other salaries out to bring him in AND they wouldn’t be sure he was staying. He might be worth a look at a lesser price, but the third pick for him would be insane.
Unlike Porzingis, Zach LaVine is under contract through 2026 or 2027, depending on his affinity for a player option in the final year. His salary ranges between $40 and $49 million during that span. That’s not horrible for a 28-year-old two-time All-Star scoring 25 per game. But that’s what LaVine does: score 25 per game. The Blazers already have Anfernee Simons who’s almost at that level. LaVine is clearly a more accomplished player and scorer, but Simons won’t take over the ball from Lillard or create a culture conflict. LaVine doesn’t play defense either. Either Brandon Miller or Sccot Henderson would have a far better chance of boosting the Blazers to the next level than LaVine would. This deal might make sense if the Blazers were trading Lillard. Otherwise, no.
Karl-Anthony Towns was once coveted as a unique, multi-faceted, athletic scoring center. He had the potential to become a generational star at his position, especially since the NBA has lacked great big men for most of the last decade. Eight seasons in, Towns is playing power forward, drifting outside with his shot selection, slowing down due to injuries, and showing little sign of backing up his four All-Star appearances with a memorable career. He’s still capable of putting up offensive numbers, but no defense, no inspiration, and no wins for his team make him a bad bet for Portland, as they need all those things and more. Add in Towns’ max-max contract and this deal becomes a bungle for the Blazers.
As much as the Blazers would like to be Ariana Grande on the market (“I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it”), the third pick and your second-best player only have so much purchasing power. A couple of the names suggested for Portland are probably beyond their credit limit.
Mikal Bridges and Bam Adebayo
Mikal Bridges and Bam Adebayo stand out on Portland’s wish list. Both are young, defensively apt, and big scorers. They’re the next generation of stars, if not superstars.
That’s exactly why their incumbent teams are committed to keeping them. The Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat are playing Moe Greene vs. Michael Corleone with the Blazers. “You don’t buy me out, I buy YOU out.” Each team comes to the table convinced they can talk the other out of their prized player, committed to not letting it happen to them. The most likely outcome is a stalemate, with both sides walking away shaking their heads.
OG Anunoby is not at the level of Bridges and Adebayo. Apparently, the Toronto Raptors think he is. That’s an issue for the Blazers, who would presumably like to obtain him for less than four first-rounders plus Simons.
Anunoby only makes $18.5 million, making him far more approachable than most on this list. His contract only runs through next season, though. The Blazers would need some guarantee of him re-signing. If he’s not doing that with Toronto, would he do it with Portland? That complication, plus the exorbitant asking price, probably make this a no-go.
To be clear: if the Blazers could actually pull off one of these acquisitions at a reasonable price, more power to them! It just doesn’t seem like a realistic expectation at this point.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George has been rumored in play for the third pick. He’s making a whopping $45 million next season, so it’s hard to see how the financials would work in that kind of swap. He has a player option the year following as well, making this a huge speculation for Portland.
At 32 years of age, George still put up 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists over 56 games last season. That was his high-water mark for games played since 2018-19. That’s one red flag. The Clippers’ disappointing performance despite featuring George is another. He’s still an amazing skill fit. He’s not the defensive game-changer he was back in 2019 when he was 28 and a perennial All-Star.
This trade would have been perfect four years ago. At this point, it reeks of desperation. If the Blazers got two good years out of it, they’d be doing well. The next Paul George is supposedly sitting at the #3 position in the draft, however. And he’d come much cheaper.
Tomorrow: Deals that might actually work for the Blazers and their trading partners.