The Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of a profoundly disappointing season. They spent this summer fending off Damian Lillard trade rumors. While he remains on the roster, upheaval still consumes the organization. Longtime head coach Terry Stots was controversially replaced with Chauncey Billups. It’s hard to say that it’s worked out to date. Meanwhile, Neil Olshey was ousted as General Manager.
For all of that change, the roster remains relatively stagnant. The Blazers still field an offensively dynamic, defensively woeful backcourt of Lillard and C.J.McCollum. They’re still flanked by Jusuf Nurkic and a platoon of defensive-minded forwards who may not be effective enough to compensate for their backcourt’s diminutive stature. All of which has left the squad a disappointing 16-25. At this point, recent news of Lillard’s potentially season-ending abdominal surgery may be a blessing in disguise.
Trades if the Portland Trail Blazers Become Sellers
While that may feel counterintuitive, the opportunity to punt this season could pay dividends for the Blazers in 2022-23. It’s not hard to envision a future where they bottom out for better draft odds, and then flip that pick along with some young players and McCollum for a star that fits with Dame.
Here are three deals that get them some of those vitally important young players.
Portland Trail Blazers Bolster Lakers’ Defense
The trade: Portland sends Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Lakers for Talen Horton-Tucker and Deandre Jordan
Lately, we’ve been in the business of trading Talen Horton-Tucker on behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers. It makes good business sense. As a 21-year-old with ballhandling chops and defensive potential, THT is the only remotely interesting trade chip on this Lakers roster.
The operative word is “interesting”. The last time we proposed hypothetical Horton-Tucker trades, we had the Lakers receiving some slightly bigger names than Robert Covington. Unfortunately, Tucker’s play has only tanked his potential trade value since. His 49.0 True Shooting % (TS%) is unambiguously awful. For their purposes, the Blazers should want him anyway.
Some rebuilding front office should be willing to buy Horton-Tucker’s combination of length, ball-handling, and athleticism. The Blazers aren’t looking to acquire a long-term contributor here. They’re looking to land a trade chip.
As for the Lakers, Covington improves their defense and positional versatility. He already has some experience serving as a small-ball center alongside Russell Westbrook. They could deploy him at the 4, sharing a frontcourt with Anthony Davis and LeBron James. They could use him at the 3 for spells in defensive-minded units featuring Dwight Howard and Davis as dual bigs (imagine NBA teams trying to score on that group with a backcourt of LeBron James and Avery Bradley).
Covington is one of the NBA’s foremost swiss army knives. The Lakers could use him for just about anything. He’d certainly be more useful to their short-term cause than the still-learning Horton-Tucker. With LeBron James and Russell Westbrook on the payroll, the Lakers need to live in the now.
Blazers Boost Blossoming Grizzlies
The trade: Portland sends Robert Covington to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jarrett Culver and Brandon Clarke
Here are some things that have been disappointing: the Portland Trail Blazers’ season so far. Jarrett Culver‘s career to date. Brandon Clarke‘s ever-decreasing minutes. Here’s something that has not been disappointing: the Memphis Grizzlies in 2021-22. There’s a deal to be made here.
There’s little else to be said. The Grizzlies could use Covington for the same reasons any competitive NBA team could. He can play the 3, 4, or 5. He can equally guard any of those positions, in addition to some slower guards. Likewise, the Portland Trail Blazers could use Culver and Clarke for the same reasons any non-competitive NBA team could. They’re both young and should remain intriguing to rebuilding clubs next off-season.
Remember, the Blazers, in this scenario, are bottoming out next season to improve their draft pick in hopes of trading it for a star player on a bad team this offseason. Culver and Clarke would only be sweeteners. In that light, the Blazers could do much worse than either.
Blazers Trade Raptors Their Center
The trade: Portland sends Jusuf Nurkic to Toronto Raptors for Chris Boucher, Isaac Bonga, Malachi Flynn
The Toronto Raptors are one of the most interesting teams in the National Basketball Association. Between Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Dalano Banton, they boast a platoon of oversized playmaking wings.
It seems like they’re trying to project the future of basketball. Small-ball was never the game’s final form. Bigger players developing guard skills will inevitably usher in the era of big-ball. The Raptors are trying to get ahead of the curve. It’s admirable, but if they do decide that they need a conventional center, the Portland Trail Blazers should give them a call.
Chris Boucher is a walking riddle. He’s played the role of a future star and future Euroleague star in equal measures during his time with the Toronto Raptors. He is a rare player who can both space the floor and block shots, but his thin frame, unfortunately, limits his utility.
No matter: he’s mostly here to make the money work. The Blazers would find some limited use for him if he’s not included in a future trade. The appeal for them in this deal lies in the other two players involved.
Raptors deal Blazers Intriguing Young Talent
Malachi Flynn has flashed a lot of promise over his season-and-a-half in Canada. However, this year, he’s had his minutes reduced by over half, from 19.7 in his rookie season to 8.6 this year. The Raptors are in a unique position as a somewhat young team on the verge of competitiveness. If they chose to lean further into the present, flipping a player (or two) that they’re not using, along with Boucher, to add some muscle in the middle may be beneficial.
Isaac Bonga is another intriguing player. Positionally, he’s listed as “small forward and point guard” on Basketball-Reference. That kind of positional versatility alone is enough to make the 22-year-old intriguing to rebuilding clubs. At 5.3 minutes per contest, he’s also another young player the Raptors aren’t using.
If they acquired Jusuf Nurkic, odds are, they’d use him a lot.
The Portland Trail Blazers cannot be satisfied with their 2021-22 season so far. If Lillard is shelved for the remainder of the year, they also won’t be able to salvage it. If they start preparing soon, they might be able to turn heads in 2022-23.
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