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This week on The Long Two, Ben Ladner looked at the difficult decision the Blazers are facing at the trade deadline — whether or not to trade Damian Lillard. It’s an impossible choice with a strong likelihood of failure on both sides. Ben does a great job of breaking down all the factors that will lead into the decision but I wanted to try and help visualize what might actually be waiting on either side.
I put together two different trade scenarios — one trading Lillard for a rebuild, one trading everything but Lillard for a retool — to try and see what the roster could look like depending on what the Blazers choose.
The Portland Trail Blazers can trade Damian Lillard
In this scenario, the Blazers empty the cupboard, trading all of their veterans and amassing as much draft capital and young talent as possible. There are myriad different ways this could work out but I came up with one five-team scenario below that honors the contributions of Lillard and CJ McCollum over the years by trading them to teams where they have a chance to win a title.
Philadelphia 76ers get: Damian Lillard (POR), Frank Kaminsky (PHX), Larry Nance Jr. (POR)
Phoenix Suns get: CJ McCollum (POR), Georges Niang (PHI)
Utah Jazz get: Robert Covington (POR), Abdel Nader (PHX), Jason Preston (LAC)
Los Angeles Clippers get: Jusuf Nurkic (POR), Norman Powell (POR), Furkan Korkmaz (PHI), Charles Bassey (PHI)
Portland Trail Blazers get: Ben Simmons (PHI), Deandre Ayton (PHX), Landry Shamet (PHX), Serge Ibaka (LAC), Joe Ingles (UTA), Ivica Zubac (LAC), Terance Mann (LAC), Keon Johnson (LAC), 3 future first-round picks (PHI, LAC, UTA)
The Suns have run out to the best record in the league with Ayton appearing in only 29 games and Bismack Biyombo and JaVale McGee holding down the center rotation. They seemed hesitant to pay him this offseason and here they flip him for a huge backcourt upgrade and third guard to supercharge their offense even further.
The Blazers turn their star backcourt into a frontcourt of the future in Ayton and Simmons. They preserve rotation spots for Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little and add inexpensive shooting (Shamet) and two young, talented wings in Mann and Johnson — a core whose oldest pieces would be Simmons and Mann at 25. Ingles and Ibaka could be repackaged in another deal or simply provide cap relief when their deals expire at the end of this season. And while the first-round picks they add are unlikely to fall in the lottery, they help Portland start building a war chest of picks for future deals.
The end result is a team that could compete for a playoff spot next season if things break right but with significantly more future upside and flexibility.
The Portland Trail Blazers can trade everyone except Damian Lillard
The other option is to hold onto Lillard and trade all the veteran pieces, hoping to catch lightning with a group that can stay healthy and fit slightly better. This route feels a bit like the Einstein definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. But it maintains that commitment to Lillard and tries to find some way to make it work a little bit differently.
Below is a multi-team trade idea that holds onto Lillard, as well as Simons and Little, but tries to build a more flexible and versatile core around him.
Philadelphia 76ers get: CJ McCollum (POR), Larry Nance Jr. (POR)
San Antonio Spurs get: Marvin Bagley (SAC), Tony Snell (POR)
Sacramento Kings: Robert Covington (POR), Jusuf Nurkic (POR), Aaron Nesmith (BOS), Paul Reed (PHI), 2 future first-round picks (PHI, POR)
Boston Celtics get: Norman Powell (POR)
Portland Trail Blazers get: Tobias Harris (PHI), Harrison Barnes (SAC), Buddy Hield (SAC), Josh Richardson (BOS), Thad Young (SAS)
The Kings would be the toughest sell in this one, giving up Bagley, Barnes and Hield for two future picks which will likely be outside the lottery, two talented youngsters who have seen a ton of minutes and two veterans that could either be flipped again or simply become cap space when their deals expire at the end of the season. But if they buy-in it’s a way for everyone else to get better and for the Blazers to start over around Lillard, albeit with more of the same.
Hield is a less effective creator than McCollum but he’s just as dangerous shooting off movement and spacing the floor which will help create space for Lillard. The Blazers would also be buying high on Harris who is having a dramatically down year for the 76ers. But he’s a talented frontcourt scorer one year removed from the best season of his career. Barnes and Richardson add shooting and defensive versatility and the Blazers can hopefully convince Thad Young to re-sign at a reasonable price. They’d still need to figure out their center rotation and the definitely squeezes minute for Little and Simons, who they both hold onto. But it’s another iteration around Lillard with (hypothetically) complementary scoring, shooting, wing defense and a bit of versatility.
As I said, this probably ends up in the same place as the past few seasons but there just aren’t any choices to be had for the Blazers.
Other NBA stories:
In addition to his breakdown on the Lillard situation, Ben Ladner went deep on two young wings making a huge and unexpected impact for playoff teams — Kessler Edwards for the Nets and Amir Coffey for the Clippers.
The biggest stories in the Eastern Conference aren’t about the standings, they’re about Ben Simmons, James Harden and the NBA Trade Deadline. Is Daryl Morey savvy enough to use the Harden talk simply as a smokescreen to distract from the Simmons mess? Should the Nets actually consider flipping Harden? Have the 76ers finally figured out how to maximize this Simmons-less roster?
It’s looking more and more like the MVP debate is going to come down to Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. It’s a debate that matters.