The Portland Trail Blazers made two minor moves as the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline came to a close on Thursday morning. General Manager Joe Cronin negotiated with the Boston Celtics’ Brad Stevens to secure guard Dalano Banton for a heavily-protected second round pick. He also promoted Rip City Remix guard and G League Up Next representative Ashton Hagans to a 10-day contract.
Those two backcourt players will help the Blazers deal with the extended absence of Shaedon Sharpe who will spend the next few weeks recovering from abdominal surgery. The moves also increase the Blazers’ regular roster to the maximum 15.
But what about Duop Reath? The 27-year-old has been a revelation for the Blazers this season, plucked out of apparent obscurity. Reath spent much of his youth with me down under and has battled the past few years through lesser leagues in Serbia, Australia, China and Lebanon. He’s done it the hard way.
Reath signed a two-way contract with the Blazers before the start of the 2023-24 season after strong showings at NBA Summer League and during the preseason.
He initially showcased his skillset with a remarkable 37 point-performance on five of six from three for the Remix in early November. When Robert Williams III went down with a season-ending knee injury, Reath stepped in as Deandre Ayton’s primary backup, beating out Moses Brown and fellow two-way player Ibou Badji.
Reath's valuable contribution has since presented the Blazers with a difficult choice.
Two-way contracted players can participate in a maximum of 50 games with their NBA team. Reath has so far suited up in 38 games, with the Blazers to play another 31 to round out the season. If Portland wants to keep him on the court for the rest of the campaign, he needs to find his way onto the regular season roster.
Reath is someone I can see sticking with the franchise through these next couple of years as the young Blazers find their footing. He's a reliable source of offense while offering passable defense. He's not the most athletic name on the roster, but Reath plays to his strengths and is rarely over-awed by the moment.
As mentioned, Reath has lined up in 38 games this season, starting 11 when Ayton has sat through injury. He’s averaged 9.1 points on 39 percent from three, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks.
Among bigs, he ranks fourth in corner threes, hitting 52 percent of his shots. He’s equal first in long midrange shots, making 100 percent from more than 14 feet out. Reath is also 16th among bigs in claiming loose balls on offense.
Importantly, he’s spreading the floor on a team in need of long-range shooting. That 39 percent three point shooting is crucial to the Blazers, luring opposing bigs out of the paint and opening driving lanes for the likes of Scoot Henderson, Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe.
While the Blazers are far from a winning team, Reath is hitting some of those threes at crucial moments, often keeping the young squad competitive.
At 27, he’s not your typical rookie. But for someone who isn’t troubling the cap sheet, he’s more than outplaying his two-way deal.
How can the Blazers convert him?
The Blazers currently have the maximum 15 regular roster players, including Hagans and his 10-day contract. The G Leaguer may have been signed as a stop-gap before Banton arrives from the east coast. Perhaps he's a Blazer for the rest of the season.
Regardless of what happens, I see two options if Cronin plans to keep Reath on the court.
Firstly, if the Blazers believe Malcolm Brogdon, Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson, Matisse Thybulle and Banton is enough backcourt depth, he can thank Hagans for his contribution and send him back to the Remix at the end of his 10 days.
In this scenario, Reath replaces Hagans and the Blazers play out the rest of the season.
But there's a problem. Ironically, this roster suffers from a scarcity of guards - the opposite to what we saw during the Damian Lillard era.
Replacing Hagans with Reath further imbalances the squad.
Option two allows for Reath's deal to be converted while Hagans, or another backcourt player, remains on the roster?
In this scenario, Cronin waives injured big man Moses Brown whose minimum contract became fully guaranteed last month. The 7’2 center is recovering from a wrist fracture after playing only nine games, averaging 2.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.6 blocks.
While Brown has improved since his last stint with the Blazers in 2019-20, I'm not sure he's shown enough to secure his roster spot. Especially considering the lack of alternative options who might be waived. There's no way the Blazers part with other members of their deep bench, ie Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert, who were drafted in June, still with plenty of potential to realize.
Releasing Brown is less impactful given the Blazers' other options at center. Jabari Walker is more than capable of playing minutes as a small-ball five. There's also Badji, who while still incredibly raw, has shown capability as a defensive-minded fourth-string big man.
Portland has to find a way to convert Reath’s contract. The 27-year-old is on a two-way deal, playing heavy minutes and is without a doubt the team’s best non-injured back-up center.
Unfortunately, it’ll probably come at the expense of Moses Brown who, through injury and less than stellar play, has failed to stake his claim in the rotation.
If the Blazers let Reath reach 50 games without being converted to a regular roster deal, they’re failing to optimize this squad. Reath is someone who could more than capably serve as a third-string center on a good team and is already a serviceable backup on this team.
The Blazers are obviously aware of this situation. But it’ll be interesting to see which way they go. Considering the makeup of the roster, the franchise's best option should be to part with Brown to ensure Reath stays on the court.