The Portland Trail Blazers are expected to be active in the trade market during the Summer of 2023. Electing to keep Scoot Henderson, the third-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Portland has removed their most easily-swapped asset from the market. Assuming they don’t want to trade Damian Lillard himself, Simons has become the next-most-mentioned candidate on the “to be traded” list.
But what value would the young shooting guard bring? That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Everybody’s saying that we’re going to trade Ant. It makes sense. I haven’t heard of many serious offers for him though. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard any at all. Does he have much value in trade do you think? Or is this one of those cases where he’s more valuable to us than he would be to anyone else?
At this point, I don’t think Simons is more valuable to the Blazers than other teams. It’s just roster math. Pairing Damian Lillard and Scoot Henderson gives them two guards that they’ll (at least eventually) expect to start. Each is a ball handler and a scorer. That doesn’t leave enough minutes, role, or unique skill set for Simons to prosper properly.
Oh, and guess what? Portland’s other promising up-and-comer, Shaedon Sharpe, plays shooting guard. That’s four offense-heavy guards needing serious minutes lining up for only two positions.
All of that is environmental, though. Simons’ individual abilities are still intriguing.
Admittedly, in today’s NBA, scoring 20 is the new 18. Even so, averaging 21.1 points per game tied Simons for 30th in the league last season. That’s not bad.
16 of those Top-30 scorers were guards. Simons ranks 12th of the 16 in field goal percentage, but 6th in three-point percentage. And his three-point percentage this year (.377) pales in comparison to the stellar numbers he put up over the last two (.405 in 2021-22, .426 in 2022-23). With a steadier, more prominent role in the offense, his percentages might well rebound. Either way, he still has that lightning-quick three-point release that’s nigh impossible to stop.
Simons’ assist numbers have grown over the past two seasons. There’s reason to believe he could handle light point guard duties, at least. He’s also among the half-dozen youngest of the Top 30 scorers. Those things recommend him too.
The contract the Blazers gave Simons last season will be in force for three more years. He’s scheduled to make $77.7 million over the duration. That’s not chump change, but if scoring 20 is the new 18, making $20 million is the new 15. With the new CBA constricting overspending, the early impression in the wake of its adoption has been financial austerity. It’s easy to forget that, in aggregate, franchises will be spending more in the coming years because of the new broadcast deals. Average salary is going to go up, not down. Simons’ contract is already in line with his production and should look just fine in years to come.
Ant won’t be an automatic fit everywhere, but he wouldn’t be a bad one for any team except those that, like Portland, already have too much backcourt scoring. Some GM out there is going to tilt their head sideways, look at the potential, and welcome him with open arms.
Establishing Simons as trade-worthy is only half the battle though. The other question is the one you mentioned: How much is he worth?
Nobody here is an NBA General Manager. Nobody here thinks like one. But I want to relay to you a basic, human interaction that may illustrate the situation.
Recently I talked with colleagues who cover another NBA team about the possibilities of them making a move for Lillard. To protect the anonymity of my conversation partners, we’ll keep that team nameless.
The first thing I established was that we weren’t looking for Mikal Bridges. The purpose of the deal was to unite Lillard and Bridges on their squad. That was the candy, enticing them to trade.
So then, with Bridges off the table, I inquired, “What about Nic Claxton?”
Well, no. They liked Claxton’s youth, defensive ability, and connection to the franchise. So no Claxton.
“OK then, how about Ben Simmons and some really serious draft compensation?”
Believe it or not, they believed there was a chance of Simmons coming back strong. So they nixed that. They did mutter something about a sign-and-trade for Cam Johnson though.
Putting aside the hard-cap implications of that offer, plus their reticence to throw in valuable draft picks, we had an interpersonal issue to solve at that point. “You’re really saying to me that you will take Damian Lillard, but we have to dig down to your fourth-best player...not first, second, or third, but FOURTH...before you’ll start thinking about compensation? Excuse me what?”
If you felt that in your gut, now imagine yourself as an opposing GM picking up the phone on a Blazers trade offer.
“Are you putting up Lillard?”
“Scoot Henderson, then?”
“Shaedon Sharpe at least!”
No. We’re talking Anfernee Simons, if not our fourth-best player, the fourth-most promising at the moment.
As we said above, GM’s absolutely will listen to, and perhaps be intrigued by, Simons offers. But if you think for a hot second you’re getting their star for your fourth-best guy, re-read the gut-wrench dialogue above.
Simons would be a great conversation-starter for a really good role-player, even a veteran one. Teams could go young-for-old with him, scoring for multi-faceted play, even backcourt for frontcourt. They’re not going to go star for star, though. That’s where Simons falls short. If the Blazers hope for that kind of move, they’d have to throw in plenty of future picks. Even then, I think it’d be pretty difficult.
If and when the Blazers deal Simons, I’m guessing the other team will walk away feeling like they got a bargain because of his youth and point production while the Blazers walk away feeling like they fulfilled a need via a solid, but not spectacular, return.
Maybe I’ll be surprised? It happens. But I have a gut feeling that the only way for Portland to extract maximum value for Simons at this point would be to keep him and trade someone else instead. If they move Ant, it’ll probably be an “eye of the beholder” situation for both teams rather than a razzle-dazzle deal.
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