The Portland Trail Blazers are very excited about moving up to the 3rd overall pick.
It remains to be seen if their excitement is misplaced, but at least according to @LegionHoops via @ChrisBHaynes, “The Blazers intend to trade their No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to try and build a championship team around Damian Lillard.” If there is any truth to this rumor, get ready to be disappointed.
The Blazers will fall short in their quest to win a championship again…
…they don’t trade for another cornerstone player to pair with Dame.
Maybe another team would be willing to trade their franchise away, but I have serious doubts. Would you trade Giannis, Booker, Doncic, Jokic, Tatum, Durant (having just acquired him), Embiid, LeBron, or Butler?
Even though I think it might be the Blazers’ clearest path to future championship contention, I’m not even sure I would trade Lillard if I were Joe Cronin. Unless, upon calling Dame’s bluff, he demands to be traded, publicly or otherwise.
Here’s to hoping Joe doesn’t let Dame hold him hostage and does what’s in the long-term best interests of the Trail Blazers franchise, much like he did in last year’s draft when he picked Shaedon Sharpe rather than trading the asset away.
Here’s to hoping Mike Schmitz, the Blazers Assistant GM and former draft protégé for ESPN, pounds the table for Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson like I’m assuming he did last year for Sharpe.
As much as I would personally love Lillard to be paired with another cornerstone player unless a trade is demanded, they typically don’t come available. If, by some miracle, one of the above-referenced players (and you could even throw Anthony Davis into this mix) were to become available, I might even be willing to mortgage the farm. I might even get a Blazers 2024 NBA Championship tattoo in the immediate aftermath of such a blockbuster (no, not really).
But being that such scenarios rise to the level of pie in the sky, and we’re still basking in the excitement of the Blazers securing the 3rd overall pick, let’s turn our attention to what the Blazers ‘can do’ vs. what they can’t (pie in the sky is on too high of a cloud to reach after all). And for this ‘can do’ we are going to spend a bit of time in the “Winning at the Highest Level” Basketball Lab to produce another player possibility for the Blazers. This is how we’re going to answer the question of “If not Siakam, then who?”
Not since Chief (Al-Farouq Aminu) and Mo (Maurice Harkless) were their linchpins have had the Blazers even been average defensively. But not for a lacking of trying, as coaches and players alike have changed since. If anything, though, their defense has gotten worse, not better, so what gives?
They lack cohesion, plain and simple. Even now, they have individual elements on which to replicate, having at least an average defense. Matisse Thybulle, as a 2x NBA All-Defensive 2nd team selection (2021, 2022), is the most accomplished, but Jerami Grant and Justise Winslow also have higher-level defensive chops. Even Jusuf Nurkic, when healthy and engaged, has proven to be a capable backline.
And yet, they still need help, and lots of it. The Blazers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, having ranked 27th or worst in Defensive Rating over the last 4 seasons.
What they need is help in the form of connective tissue. Help in the form of a player excelling as a defensive coordinator and an elite one at that. And a player that is going to keep the ball humming around on offense, perhaps a point-forward even.
Now let’s dump these skills into a beaker in our “Winning at the Highest Level” Basketball Lab, put it into a centrifuge, and see who, player-wise, it spits out.
Our “Winning at the Highest Level” lab results:
- Former Defensive Player of the Year (2016-17)
- 5x All-Defensive Team Member (1st team: 2014-15, 2015-16, & 2016-17; 2nd team: 2017-18 & 2018-19)
- 2x All-NBA Team Member (2nd team: 2015-16, 3rd team: 2016-17)
- 3x All-Star (2016, 2017, 2018) -&-
- As a PF/Small Ball C, he also Ranked in the Top 10 in assists per game for three consecutive seasons (seventh with 7.3 apg in 2017-18, ninth with 7.0 apg in 2016-17, & seventh again with 7.4 apg in 2015-16)
The player is Draymond Green. And, in my mind represents “the” player most likely to catapult the Blazers into championship contention next season in terms of potential availability and filling the Blazers’ most crucial needs. As a defensive coordinator, they don’t get much better than Draymond, and he doubles as an excellent frontcourt playmaker. But he isn’t without risk, and it’s only because of this that he might be available.
The primary risk factor is health, but it always is with any player. Of greater concern and undoubtedly related to his health/age is Green being past his prime. The accolades noted above bear this out, with Draymond last ranking as one of the NBA’s best defensive players and playmakers in 2017-18. That was four seasons ago. But all I’m talking about is just next season. Beyond that, all bets should be off concerning Green doing any catapulting for the Blazers.
Secondarily though, but not any less important, and perhaps of greater concern than his age/health, is Draymond breaking the catapult and sinking the ship before the team even reaches championship contention. He might be singularly responsible for bringing the Warriors dynasty to an end. Don’t believe me? Why don’t you ask Jordan Poole, Steve Kerr, or Green himself?
While Draymond no doubt runs hot, I’m rolling the dice and rolling with him, but just next season, with emphasis on just. Thus if I’m Cronin, I’m “Going For It” by trading for Green but being very measured in what I would be willing to give up.
I think Anfernee Simons (but only because the Blazers now have the 3rd overall pick) and maybe the 23rd pick for Draymond. And perhaps you get a 3rd team involved and reroute Simons elsewhere since the Warriors already have Jordan Poole? Although I think there is a zero chance of the Warriors winning another championship if the combo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson aren’t fresh come playoff time. And I can’t think of a better way to accomplish this than having Poole and Simons as their backups, but that’s just me.
The most significant wrinkle in all of this though is Draymond Green’s player option for next season. Let’s hope he paves his way to Portland by opting in and then, upon his arrival, is as motivated as ever to prove his naysayers wrong.
With the pairing of Lillard and a healthy and motivated Green as the Blazers’ fulcrum, a championship parade through the heart of Rip City would not be out of the realm of possibilities, especially with Thybulle, Grant, and Nurk likely joining them in the starting five. This, to me, is a great approximation of the 2004 NBA Champion Fab-starting-Five of Chauncey Billups (Dame, but as the primary scorer), Rip Hamilton (Grant, but as the secondary scorer), Tayshaun Prince (Thybulle), Rasheed Wallace (Nurk), & Ben Wallace (Draymond).
Tell me where I need to sign, please!