After an underwhelming season, the Portland Trail Blazers are in trouble. General Manager Neil Olshey finds his team in NBA cap room purgatory with huge contracts all around and no room for free agent signings. So what does that leave Olshey? With the job of orchestrating a trade that benefits Portland both statistically and financially.
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) April 27, 2017
This is the tweet that set off a firestorm in Rip City. When asked who he’d like to see the Trail Blazers go after this season, CJ McCollum simply tagged the Twitter handle of Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George.
Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, McCollum, and George. Just saying those four names together has me envisioning a red and black championship parade down Broadway.
But it’s not all green grass, blue skies, and roses in the business of basketball.
The Trail Blazers had found themselves $11 million over the cap for the 2016-17 season. While it’s not an ideal situation to be in, it’s certainly a manageable one. Fast-forward to the upcoming 2017-18 season and you’ll find that Blazers owner Paul Allen is going to be in some financial trouble if ever there’s such a thing for a multi-billionaire.
The first year of McCollum’s 4-year/$106 million contract, which activates next season, will put Portland nearly $32 million over the cap.
On top of this all, Portland’s new potential franchise big man, Nurkic, will be a free agent come the end of the 2017-18 season. Unless the Trail Blazers want to take yet another step backward at the center position, you best believe they’ll find a way to pay the Bosnian Beast whatever he wants.
In terms of bringing in reinforcements, Olshey has only two options for this offseason:
Dump salary by trading away large-contract players for small contracts or other assets, like draft picks, or trade away large-contract players for other large-contract players, which fit the NBA’s financial restrictions.
One player that fits the bill is George.
The four-time NBA All-Star will be entering the final year of his contract, which guarantees $20.5 million. If Portland is ready to go with a ‘win now’ philosophy, this would be the move to prove it.
But it’s going to cost Portland a lot more than most are ready to give up.
For my Trail Blazers Trade Options series, I will be putting together mock discussions with various NBA enthusiast/columnists/analysts. I will be assuming the role of Portland’s GM while the selected guest will be portraying the opposing GM.
For this trade, NBA enthusiast Eduardo Pimentel took on the role of Pacers GM/president Kevin Pritchard. Here’s how our discussion went down:
Portland (P): “How about Allen Crabbe and a first-rou-”
Indiana (I): “Nope.”
P: “Two first-rounders, a future unprotected first-rounder, and My-”
P: “Three first-rounders and Maurice Hark-”
P: “Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, the 15th pick, and the 20th pick for Paul George and Monta Ellis.”
I: “CJ McCollum for Paul George. Straight up. Damian Lillard aside, that’s the only deal I’m taking.”
It’s a wake-up call for Rip City. The Pacers aren’t going to let themselves become the laughingstock of the NBA quite like the Sacramento Kings did with their seemingly one-sided DeMarcus Cousins deal last season.
Pritchard, who was formerly the GM of the Trail Blazers, is known for his lopsided wheeling and dealing. So much so, that he has his own term used for when a team gets, essentially, ripped off; they get ‘PritchSlapped’.
Now you’re going to tell me that Pritchard, who was famously fired by Blazers owner Paul Allen hours before the 2010 NBA Draft and then requested to still coordinate their draft, is going to cut Portland a deal? Fellow OSN columnist Bryant Knox said it best:
Larry Bird was stubborn on keeping him, so his stepping down helps. But I’m guessing Pritchard would drink motor oil before helping Blazers.
— Bryant Knox (@BryantKnox) April 28, 2017
- Allen Crabbe and the 20th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick for Paul George – Indiana denied
- Meyers Leonard, 15th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick, 20th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick, and a 2019 unprotected first round draft pick for Paul George – Indiana denied
- Maurice Harkless, 15th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick, 20th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick, and the 26th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick for Paul George – Indiana denied
- Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, 15th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick, and the 20th overall 2017 NBA Draft pick for Paul George and Monta Ellis – Indiana denied
- CJ McCollum for Paul George – Only option Indiana will accept
Final trade option:
CJ McCollum for Paul George
Why the trade will happen:
George doesn’t want to be in Indiana. He’s made it clear that he will not be pursuing a contract extension with the Pacers and looks to join a championship contender come the 2017-18 free agency period. Portland’s title hopes rely on Crabbe’s ability to fill the shooting guard void hypothetically left by McCollum.
PG’s expiring contract could provide Portland with two options; either extend George’s contract with the cap room made by trading away McCollum or let PG and his $20.5 million expiring contract walk in hopes of locking up Nurkic to a long-term deal, as well as a supplementing free agent pickup.
Why the trade won’t happen:
There is no way that Portland trades away McCollum for what could be a one-year rental. Thanks to the wonderful world of social media, George has been linked with a whole lot of Los Angeles Lakers interest, and it hasn’t been subtle at all. Jonathan Lehman of the New York Post went as far to say that “the Lakers and Paul George are doing this with all the subtlety of middle schoolers circling their crush.”
If somehow George is sent over in a long-term sign and trade deal that prevents him from bailing to LA at the end of next season, we’re talking a whole different story.
At this point, the deal would, once again, rely on Crabbe’s ability to fill in for McCollum. While it wouldn’t be a popular option among Blazers fans, if Crabbe can elevate his game, Portland would find itself in a better position both statistically and financially. That’s a big ‘if’ to match alongside an already very unlikely scenario, however. Every athlete knows that professional sports are a business, but something tells me that trading away McCollum would be a surefire way to upset Portland’s franchise point guard.
Putting all of that aside, is this even a trade that Portland would want to make? To trade away the Robin to Lillard’s Batman? To break up one of the Association’s most electrifying backcourts? To acquire a player who would likely look to bounce south once the season is over?
Even if a long-term deal is worked out, Olshey would be an absolute fool to sit $35 million worth of small forwards behind George while putting full trust in Crabbe to fill in for McCollum, who averaged 23.0 points per game, 20th overall in the NBA for the 2016-17 season.
The asking price is way too high for Portland to even consider. The idea behind adding George to the Trail Blazers lineup is to assemble a super team of Lillard, McCollum, George, and Nurkic. Trading away McCollum undoubtedly defeats the purpose of this heavily speculated possiblity. A sign and trade scenario is beyond unlikely and, even if George would happen to agree to those terms, Olshey has gone on record to say that both Lillard and McCollum are untradable.
I would be absolutely dumbfounded to see George not wearing his hometown purple and gold come the start of the 2018-19 NBA season.
Rip City has done a whole lot of dreaming over the last couple of seasons. Whether it was #StayLA (phew) or #ParsonsToPDX (double phew), many popular potential deals have been dragged to the recycling bin.
Between George dead set on joining the Lakers and the Pacers’ high asking price, likely adamant on acquiring Portland’s star shooting guard, you can go ahead and toss your #PG13ToPDX hashtag into that same folder.
Sorry Portland, but that whole Paul George / Damian Lillard / CJ McCollum / Jusuf Nurkic super team thing? It’s not going to happen.