The Portland Trail Blazers’ biggest issue all year has been defense and rebounding. This is evident by their high-scoring games and lack of defensive rebounding. I was a big supporter of trading for Josh Hart, but the Blazers shipped him away during the trade deadline. While Jusuf Nurkic is our best defender and rebounder, he’s missed a good chunk of time this year and in the past due to various injuries. In his most recent stint of being out, the Blazers’ lead rebounder has been Damian Lillard. While many ball-dominant guards rebound more than usual, Lillard is not a prolific rebounder. When a team struggles to recover, a focus is put on the forwards and centers to box out and let those guards crash for rebounds. While the guards may enjoy the additional stats, this severely hinders a team from scoring in transition, thus leading to more three-point attempts for the Blazers while they try to keep up with the transition offense of the opposing team.
Blazers fans received some sense of joy when Dame and 76ers superstar center Joel Embiid were seeing rubbing elbows during the All-Star break. Embiid is making a solid case for this year’s NBA MVP award. With career-high averages across the board, Embiid has been an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor. Last season, he was the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to lead the league in scoring. This year, he has set new personal bests in true shooting and effective field-goal percentages.
Offensively, it can be argued that Embiid is one of the best scoring centers in the league, but what is undervalued is his defense. During his time in the league, he’s made the All-Defensive team three times. Since the 2020-2021 season, Embiid has finished in the top ten in the league for defensive rating while also going no lower than 13th in defensive rebounding percentage.
After seeing Dame and Embiid trade-friendly banter, Blazers fans may see a path for the team to deal for Embiid. The asking price must be extraordinary, given Embiid’s track record and his contract. In August of 2021, he signed a “supermax” deal (an additional four years, $210 million), meaning Embiid’s receiving the most money possible according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I won’t bore you with how, but essentially Embiid’s average annual contract value will flirt around $50 million annually. Off to the trade machine to see if I can whip up a possible trade to make it work. One note: I leave draft picks out of it. To make the following trade work, I think you would need many of them.
POR Gets – Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
PHI Gets – Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Jusuf Nurkic
The key to this trade is to retain Lillard and add Embiid. Money-wise, this trade works, assuming that Jerami Grant signs with the Blazers this off-season. The reason I said Tobias Harris was that I don’t believe there was enough talent in just Grant and Simons for it to work. Also, next year is Harris’ last year of his deal, where he’s set to make about $37 million. To boil it down, it’s swapping two scoring forwards in Grant and Harris and giving Philadelphia a certified guard in Simons, a starting center back in Nurkic, and a possible number two scoring option at his peak in Sharpe. In trades like this, you’ll have to sacrifice a lot to get a player of Embiid’s talent.
Truthfully, I don’t think this trade would work. I believe that if Portland throws ten first-rounders at Philly, it wouldn’t matter. Now, there is a world where he and Harden clash, and things get weird, but I don’t think this would even be a consideration for Philly. If I were Portland, I would take this trade. As I’ve covered in the past, Nurk is playing exactly as he should, but to improve that position to make the Blazers better, you need to bring in a top-tier center. Players like Deandre Ayton or Nikola Vucevic don’t move the needle enough for the Blazers to consider moving Nurkic.