Here’s a scale on which to determine a crisis level of your favorite NBA team:
|1||We’re Winning ‘Chips / We Have a Chance at Marvin Bagley Jr.|
|2||We’re Going to the 2nd Round of the Playoffs|
|3||Makin’ Playoffs, Probably No Chance at 2nd Round Any Time Soon|
|4||Playoff / Non-Playoff Purgatory; Franchise Player is Frustrated|
|5||Franchise Player Asked for a Trade, Somebody Hold Me|
The Portland Trail Blazers are somewhere in between Stage 4 and 5 on this crisis scale. Recently Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers’ franchise player, had a sit down with owner Paul Allen in regards to the future of the team. The conversation stopped just short of Lillard asking for a trade away from the team.
Take Lillard’s diplomatic ending to that very conversation any way you want, but Paul Allen should be doing everything he can right now in order to right the ship. He likely knows that Lillard’s patience is running thin. How can Allen keep Lillard on the team? It all comes down to money.
Money, Money, Money.
The Blazers are stuck in a bad money spot. Take a look at a rough summary of the contracts they’re obligated to over the next couple of years:
|*Data for C.J. Wilcox, Wade Baldwin, Andrew Nicholson, Anderson Varejao, and Festus Ezeli kept off of this chart.
**Salary information from basketball-reference.com
The point being made by the chart is that the Blazers are stuck with a plethora of mediocre talent at an absurd price. In fact, they have the sixth highest payroll in the league and are currently in shape to nab the sixth or seventh playoff seed in the Western Conference. Chances are they’ll be going home after the first round of the playoffs. Even if the Blazers happen to make it farther, they likely won’t do well enough to make up for their overpriced salaries.
As a manager, it’s time for Neil Olshey to make some difficult decisions.The first place to start is examining the contracts of Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless. In short, these three players are not worth a combined $37 million per year.
However, the contracts of Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, and to an extent Connaughton, could be used to sweeten certain deals since they’re slated to come off the books after this season.
Time to Unload Jusuf Nurkic
The elephant in the room is Jusuf Nurkic, who is slated for a huge payday this coming offseason. If the Blazers look to make out of their bad salary situation, they’ll need to unload Nurkic while they still have his easy-to-move contract.
Iff the Blazers could look to unload CJ McCollum instead, then they should go for it. Teams like the Orlando Magic or the Cleveland Cavaliers might be very receptive towards taking on CJ. The Blazers would undoubtedly get a good haul back and then would be able to focus on signing the likes of Ed Davis as the center of the immediate future, given his recent exceptional play.
However, getting rid of McCollum would be a public relations nightmare. He’s having a good season thus far and has become a favorite of Damian Lillard. During the meeting with Paul Allen, the topic of Will Barton was brought up, and supposedly Lillard didn’t like the fact that the Blazers couldn’t hold onto him back in 2015.
Plus, Terry Stotts has made the Portland backcourt a very comfortable work situation overall. Most guards that have come through his system have been able to operate relatively efficiently (eg. Shabazz Napier).
Since the Blazers can’t risk the backlash of a CJ trade, the Blazers need to get rid of Nurkic. Portland can’t be goaded into giving Nurkic anywhere close to a max contract.
Possible Trades for the Blazers
For the most part, these trades may require a long-term agreement on Nurkic’s side. Or, maybe not, since some teams may want to hold onto flexibility.
Another thing to remember: the Blazers have a trade exception from Allen Crabbe’s sign and trade to Brooklyn. This means that the Blazers should be really aggressive in trying to get something done with a team that’s either a little ignorant or desperate to make a move. It gives the Blazers an advantage on making trades a bit more navigable, meaning they can easily absorb contracts without having to pray for a third or fourth team to help out on a minor money issue.
This first trade example is simple. It’s for Blazer fans who are extremely attached to the idea of still having an offensive European big man.
|Nikola Vucevic||2 yr||$12,250,000||Jusuf Nurkic||1 yr||$2,947,305|
|Terrence Ross||2 yr||$10,500,000||Evan Turner||3 yr||$17,131,148|
A situation like this wouldn’t necessarily get the Blazers anywhere in particular, but again, if Olshey were able to dump Turner’s contract, he’d be able to resign Ed Davis and get a more lengthy, defensive lineup on the court. Aminu would be able to play at the three spot while Davis would be able to cover any defensive mishaps from Vucevic, since he doesn’t really play any defense.
A trade with the Magic depends on the fact that Orlando is a continuous revolving door of confusion. The Blazers could bait the Magic into taking on a risk while the Blazers will set themselves on a minor reworking period with Vucevic and Terrence Ross, both potent scorers.
|Wes Matthews||2 yr||$17,884,176||Jusuf Nurkic||1 yr||$2,947,305|
|JJ Barea||2 yr||$3,903,900||Evan Turner||3 yr||$17,131,148|
|Salah Mejri||1 yr||$1,471,382|
The trade above would be a boon for the Blazers. Not only would they be able to get back a defensive crowd favorite, but they’d be able to bolster their bench scoring as well. Dallas would be open to finally solving their convoluted big man situation by taking the chance on Nurkic. A team like Dallas would be open to taking on salary in a situation like this, especially when Turner would act as another ball-handler on the court alongside their rookie Dennis Smith Jr.
A downside would be that the Blazers would most likely have to give up their 1st round pick here in order to sweeten this deal. Olshey should realize that some of his more recent picks in the NBA draft haven’t quite worked out as well as they should, and his job at this point is to get the team deeper into the playoffs. Veteran leadership matters, and Wes Matthews gives Portland an experienced voice in the locker room. The 1st round pick also won’t help Damian Lillard’s dreams at a championship.
The unsung reward here, much like the Magic trade above, is that the Blazers would free up space for the 2019 free agency. If for some reason Matthews isn’t quite able to outperform his current contract, then the Blazers would be able to make a play for the likes of Deandre Jordan, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and dare I say LeBron James. Basically, there’s no reason to fight for open cap space for the 2018 free agency.
|Blazers||Receive||Cleveland Cavs||Receive||LA Clippers||Receive|
|Kevin Love||3 yr||$22,600,000||CJ McCollum||1 yr||$2,947,305||Tristan Thompson||$16,400,000|
|Lou Williams||1 yr||$7,000,000||Evan Turner||3 yr||$17,131,148||Jusuf Nurkic||$2,947,305|
This last trade would relinquish the talents of CJ McCollum to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the help of the Clippers, the Blazers would be able to retain Kevin Love and Lou Williams, while establishing themselves as an elite scoring team in the NBA.
There’s been a ton of drama surrounding Kevin Love’s tenure in Cleveland, and a landing spot in Portland would increase his efficiency and productivity. The Blazers might be gaining unforeseen value in Love just by having him in a less volatile atmosphere. Kevin Love also played high school basketball at Lake Oswego.
A trade like this might be embellishing CJ’s value, which is the whole point! CJ’s value will likely never be any higher again in his career, and Cleveland is under a lot of pressure to get something done during this trade deadline to appease Lebron James’ wishes to become immediate contenders in Cleveland.
With the help of the Clippers, the Blazers would be able to receive Lou Williams without having to deal with the Cavaliers’ desire to unload their Tristan Thompson contract. By the way, how wouldn’t this be appeasing to Thompson since the Kardashians are in Los Angeles!
The Blazers could give Lou Williams a big one year contract this offseason if they’d like to keep him for just another year, much like what the Philadelphia 76ers did with JJ Redick, and keep flexibility as the team heads into free agency for 2019. There’d still be more work needed in order to make the Blazers solvent, but it’s doable. Having Kevin Love’s name in Portland would be a huge stamp of approval for other free agents in 2019.
On the Hot Seat
General Manager Neil Olshey doesn’t have that much time left. If he isn’t able to get a move done to help the Blazers become solvent or attractive in the 2019 free agency, then Paul Allen will have nothing left but to show him the door.
This is Damian Lillard’s team, and that fact won’t be changing anytime soon.