The Portland Trail Blazers “Going For It” seems to be just a matter of who, not when. The pressure on Joe Cronin to placate his franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard has reached a fever pitch. Such that I expect a move will be made this offseason to pair Dame with another “star.”
But only a superstar will do, which for simplicities’ sake, I’m defining as an All-NBA player, both past (but just from last season) & present. By definition, Pascal Siakam is such a player, but I think there is some merit to him not being a full-fledged superstar. If he were a superstar in the truest sense, I don’t believe the Blazers being vaulted into championship contention would hinge so much on what they have to give up to get him.
So, before we delve into the nuts & bolts of such an acquisition, let’s check out whether there may be a legit superstar to be had by referring back to our updated guide. The NBA just released their All-NBA selections for this season. Much to my surprise, there was a fair amount of turnover from last season. In total, there were eight new additions (*) comparatively.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Luka Doncic
- Joel Embiid
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (*)
- Jayson Tatum
- Jaylen Brown (*)
- Jimmy Butler (*)
- Stephen Curry
- Nikola Jokic
- Donovan Mitchell (*)
- De’Aaron Fox
- LeBron James
- Damian Lillard (*)
- Julius Randle (*)
- Domantas Sabonis (*)
If we follow the same logic as before (https://oregonsportsnews.com/what-should-the-portland-trail-blazers-going-for-it-look-like/) & again eliminate the smallish/point guards [Curry (who doubles as a cornerstone), Mitchell & Fox], franchise cornerstones/NBA icons [Giannis, Doncic, Embiid, Tatum, Butler (you’d be hard pressed to find a player in the history of the franchise that better exemplifies Heat Culture), Jokic, & LeBron], & the defensively challenged (Julius Randle), we’re left with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA), Jaylen Brown, & Domantas Sabonis.
Coming off the MVP-caliber season he just had, I don’t think SGA is going anywhere now. Nor is Sabonis after he & Fox (the linchpins of a historically good offense) just led the Kings back to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like forever.
Brown, conversely, is an intriguing & interesting case in that he has become 1A to Tatum’s 1 but may seek a fresh start if the Celtics fall short in the playoffs again this year. Although the supermax extension he’s now eligible for after making the All-NBA team this year may prove too enticing regardless of how the Celtics finish the season. Put another way, there are just too many unknowns with Brown at present to make any definitive rulings on his availability. Pairing him with Lillard feels a bit too pie-in-sky at the moment, especially since he is still an ascending player.
Having gone through this thought exercise a 2nd time, the road has led us back to Siakam again. He was a curious omission from this year’s All-NBA teams due to his statistical production this season at least being on par, if not better, than his last. I suspect this had everything to do with the Raptors’ underachieving, which got their championship-clad coach, Nick Nurse, fired. All the more reason for the Blazers to be very measured when determining precisely what they would part with to acquire him.
Brass tacks? They need to retain much of their core to be a legitimate title-contending team. Think Detroit Pistons, circa 2004. With a Fab-starting-Five of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace (my favorite Blazer of All-Time), & Ben Wallace, their whole was more significant than the sum of their parts.
Similarly, I could really get behind a Blazers’ starting five of Dame, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Siakam, & Jusuf Nurkic. Still, in this scenario, there’s only take & no give on the Blazers’ part. Alas, this leads us to the aforementioned nuts & bolts of trading for Siakam. And herein lies the answer to the question posited in the title of this article.
If I’m the Raptors & their President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, I’m only parting with Siakam (their best player) for top-shelf value. It’s entirely possible they could run back the same team, albeit with a different voice at the helm in a new coach, & return to their winning ways next season. A lack of talent certainly isn’t the problem in Toronto. Not with another All-Star in Fred VanVleet, perhaps “the” premier 3-and-D player in OG Anunoby, & a young & upcoming player in Scottie Barnes. Plus, they just reacquired their rim-runner & shot-blocker in Jakob Poeltl.
With all this talent, I think something as simple as deploying Barnes more at the point while also moving VanVleet off the ball could do wonders for the Raptors. This backcourt setup would resemble their championship-winning duo of Kyle Lowry & VanVleet. That still would leave the Raptors with a reasonably healthy Kawhi Leonard-sized void to fill. Still, they would definitely be closer to championship contention next season simply by making this one schematic adjustment. But, if I’m Masai, I’m still willing to listen. I would need to be blown away to part with Siakam.
My somewhat limited experience within Basketball Operations taught me the clearest path to striking a deal is to think of it from the vantage point of the other team or teams. What would it take to get them to pull the trigger? (Not, how can I hose or Pritch-slap them!) Or, in the case of Ujiri & the Raptors, what would blow them away? To me, this is the first hurdle.
The second is pairing up salaries as, more often than not, the teams involved do NOT have room under their respective salary caps. Otherwise, teams can absorb players into their salary space. When teams are over the cap, the luxury tax threshold, more specifically, the 125% + $100,000 rule, applies to the aggregate salaries involved in any deal.
If the intention is to get a deal done & thus blow away Masai & the Raptors organization, negotiations start with the pairing of Anfernee Simons & Shaedon Sharpe, which also serves the dual purpose of matching salaries (https://www.espn.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=2haoq74q). But for Ujiri, I don’t think the negotiating ends here cause I know Dame has got Cronin over a barrel. Cronin has to placate Lillard or risk him finally demanding a trade. And who can blame Dame, really? He is running out of time.
So, to get this deal across the finish line, I think the Blazers will also have to part with one, but likely both of their 1st round draft picks this year. It would be foolhardy to agree to such a deal without knowing where exactly you’ll be picking in the lottery. If you win the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, all bets should be off. But even if the Blazers have a chance to draft 2nd or even third overall, I don’t think they should part with their lottery pick within the confines of this deal. Not when you’d have the chance to draft Scoot Henderson &/or Brandon Miller.
This is where Cronin could prove his mettle as a negotiator by being willing to part with the Knicks pick (23rd overall) & not with the 2nd or 3rd. I would hold firm at Simons, Sharpe, & the 23rd pick. Now, what I’m NOT saying is I would pull the trigger on this trade as constituted. I go back to the question, “What Should The Portland Trail Blazers ‘Going For It’ Look Like?
Again, for me, it’s really simple! Does a trade of Simons, Sharpe, & the 23rd pick immediately vault the Blazers into championship contention? Would the whole of Lillard, Matisse Thybulle, Jerami Grant, Pascal Siakam, and Jusuf Nurkic be greater than the sum of its parts, ala the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons?
I think if you’re able also to add Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller, then maybe? But quite frankly, I’m not parting with Simons, Sharpe, & a 1st round pick for a maybe! Not when I know there is at least a chance the pairing of Simons & Sharpe in the Blazers’ backcourt of the future could lead the franchise to its first championship since 1977.
To quote the now classic line from Dumb and Dumber: “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”
And while this Siakam trade may also give the Blazers a chance if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on this Blazers’ backcourt of the future, plus both 1st round picks from this year’s draft. Not on Siakam being the Key. If I’m Joe Cronin, I’m calling Dame’s bluff.
But this all does beg the question: “If not Siakam, then who?” And this, my friends, is the working title of the next installment of this Blazers story I’m weaving in my next article. I need to marinate on it a bit now before I write it.