The Portland Trail Blazers are widely expected to seek a trade for the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, a selection that could net them prized rookies Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller but could also bring veteran help for franchise point guard Damian Lillard. Even so, the best-laid plans of mice, men, and General Managers often fall through. The Blazers can’t give away their lottery pick for anything but the most striking upgrade. What happens if, instead, they decide to welcome a young star into their midst? That’s the question one reader asks in today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag submission.
Scoot Henderson is supposed to be phenomenal. Would it be the worst thing to draft and keep him instead of trading away for older veterans on short contracts? How do we know he’s not going to be the next Dame? I’d rather have 5-10 years of a young stud on a cheaper deal than 2-3 of expensive worrying and injuries. My only worry and my reason for writing is, do you think he and Dame can play at the same time? How would that work?
They’d make it work, at least for the short term. Game knows game. They’re both ultra-talented stars (or stars-in-waiting). They’d respect and accommodate each other.
That would probably mean Damian Lillard moving off-ball more. Henderson wouldn’t be as suitable for playing off-guard. He’s dominant with the ball in his hands. He lacks the shooting range to be a good outlet at this point. Scoot would be dribbling, Dame running action on the other side. I could even see some nifty guard-guard screen options, either with both players diving or Dame pick and popping. They’d be a handful for opposing defenses for sure.
But there’s a shelf life to that arrangement. Lillard’s experience and ability to carry a team dwarfs Henderson’s. When the Blazers got into trouble, Lillard would assume leadership and ball control again. This would be true in a micro sense in each game, also in the macrocosm of the season. The tension between team success and Henderson’s growth, also between the talent/skills of the respective guards, would require constant negotiation.
At the end of the day, as long as Damian Lillard wears Portland’s uniform, it’s going to be his team. If the Blazers were to draft Henderson, it’d be with the implied expectation that it would become his team. The collision course between those two realities would be unavoidable. Measures to keep the lines from converging into a decision point would work, but they’re only temporary.
Moving Lillard to an off-ball role would have implications for the rest of the team as well. The Blazers may be able to keep Dame and Scoot happy, but Dame, Scoot, Anfernee Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe won’t work. The huge disparity between backcourt and frontcourt would be like having a four-car garage full of exotic sports cars attached to a double-wide mobile home. You can only drive one or two of those vehicles anyway. The others would go to waste while you struggled for living space.
Keeping Henderson would almost certainly spell the end of Anfernee Simons’ tenure in Portland. One can only imagine the mental gymnastics needed to explain sticking Lillard (out of position with his size and defense) between two wholly inexperienced guards in a Henderson-Dame-Sharpe starting lineup, at the same time convincing Simons to come off the bench again. On paper, it’d be interesting...an endless buffet of scoring! In reality, the house of cards would fall apart with the first three-game losing streak whether the scheme worked decently or not. Considering defensive issues, those losing streaks would come quickly.
Once Simons was gone, the die would be cast towards the young players in the backcourt balance and, by extension, for the team. Even if the Blazers got veteran frontcourt help in exchange for Ant, momentum towards a Henderson-Sharpe tandem would become obvious.
For those reasons, I’d expect that a move to keep Scoot Henderson would morph into an exit for Lillard, gradually if he were amenable, immediately if he looked ahead and decided he wanted to reboot his career right away. The choice of timing would be up to Lillard, but I don’t imagine he’d wait more than a year to ask for changes, even if he maxed out his patience. He and Henderson could surely coexist, just not for long.
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