I’m still trying to rationalize how it works especially if the Blazers keep Damian Lillard and try to contend with another inexperienced point guard on the roster. I’m trying to convince myself that while Henderson is only 19, he’s spent two years playing against grown men, showcasing ability that may one day earn him All-NBA status.
Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin provided several notable insights into the team’s rationale during his post-draft press conference. First, he plans to keep both point guards, second, there were no concerns over Lillard leaving and third, his front office is going to be busy in free agency and trade.
There’s still a lot of movement to be had. We’ve got to do a good job in free agency and in the trade market especially in this activity window in the next two, three weeks.
We’ve planted a lot of seeds on some deals. A lot of these deals we talked about outside of three. They weren’t necessarily draft-related. Sometimes these deals will carry through to tomorrow. Could be next week, could be outside the moratorium.
The “planted seeds” line is particularly interesting. I think back to the Jerami Grant trade 12 months ago, a transaction first discussed four months earlier at the 2022 NBA trade deadline. The optimist inside me tries to convince the skeptical side that Cronin has a plan and has shown a persistence to follow up on negotiations that delivered fruitful results in the past.
If the Blazers are genuine about building a contender and adding real veterans, trades will be the only avenue. If you take away Henderson and Lillard, which assets does Cronin have left to get a deal done?
If there are any future first round picks inserted into deals in coming days, Cronin needs to iron out the franchise’s obligations to the Chicago Bulls. We’ve discussed what might be needed in such negotiations in prior posts. They need Chicago to accept alternate compensation to trade the pick back to Portland, freeing up future picks for trade.
As for players, the Blazers could offer 10 possible players — assuming the just-drafted rookies remain in Portland next season:
Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Shaedon Sharpe, Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson, Kevin Knox, Jabari Walker, Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert.
It’s already been reported that Sharpe is untouchable. While young guys — namely Watford, Johnson, Knox, Walker and the rookie trio — don’t earn enough to bring back anything of consequence and are probably considered throw-ins in any major deal if moved.
On Thursday, the Blazers upgraded from a host to a glut of talented guards - Lillard, Simons, Sharpe and Henderson. To avoid a minutes crunch in the backcourt, someone has to go. By process of elimination, Simons would be the odd one out.
For months we’ve been saying Simons’ remaining three years, $78 million is this team’s most lucrative tradable contract. After this draft, he’s even more expendable.
For me, when Cronin says “we’ve planted a lot of seeds on some deals. They weren’t necessarily draft-related”, my mind goes instantly to Simons as an inclusion in said transaction.
His $24.1 million next season would almost assuredly be the money that brings back a starting-level player at a position of need, which would be anywhere but guard.
Henderson makes the Blazers younger and more athletic. Can they really afford for the lumbering Bosnian to continue trailing his teammates up and down the court when Henderson and Sharpe are doing their thing?
I was surprised by this size of Nurkic’s deal last July. Now, his remaining three years and $54 million ($16.8 million next season), combined with Simons’ $24.1 million seem the most likely pieces that bring back anyone earning more than $35 million.
Simons would be of more interest to said team, but Nurkic helps get them there financially if the returning player’s deal is a little more gargantuan. [ed. He’d also help ease the pain for Portland’s trade partner if the Blazers were bringing in a center.]
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported earlier this week that the Cleveland Cavaliers had discussed Little’s availability with the Blazers. Little’s four-year $28 million extension is one of the more team friendly deals around, assuming he stays healthy.
At 23, Little has shown enough to suggest that if he can get his body right, he can contribute to winning in multiple facets. You’d hope that if inserted into a trade, the Blazers are able to bring back a rotation player that can contribute sooner than later.
The Blazers added Henderson, Kris Murray, and Rayan Rupert to a roster that was already too young to contend. They’re holding a quartet of Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson, Kevin Knox, and Jabari Walker on the bench. Having them all back seems far-fetched.
Of the quartet, Watford and Walker seem the most likely to remain. Watford made real contributions off the bench last season. He owns a high basketball IQ and can facilitate and handle in spurts. Walker has the opportunity to make a sophomore leap next season. Like Watford he has a decent basketball smarts and a proven drive to compete and rebound.
Johnson’s 2023-24 team option has already been picked up and the Blazers have until next Thursday to decide on Knox. If they’re not included in deals over the next few days, I’d suggest Johnson is waived and Knox’ option gets declined.
If Damian Lillard and Scoot Henderson are to co-exist in the one ecosystem — and that’s a big if — then Cronin and the Blazers have their work cut out for them over the next few weeks.
Two sub-6’4 guards is an issue we’ve been confronted with before. And now it’s a little more dire as the backcourt morass might actually block Henderson’s early development.
If the Blazers are trying to contend, then of the Lillard, Simons, Sharpe and Henderson group, Simons has to be on his way out, but how and where remains to be seen.
Regardless of whether the Blazers add veterans or go young, it’s also unlikely Nurkic is around next season. And Little might be that piece that gets a particular deal done.
Cronin promised the 2023-24 incarnation of the Blazers would be more experienced. And if you still believe him then it’s likely that at least a couple of the young guys are gone.
The next two weeks will be fascinating for Blazers and Lillard watchers as Cronin and co. try to deliver on all the promises they’ve pledged over the past 18 months.