We are just over two weeks from the NBA Trade Deadline on February 10. Some teams will be making moves to solidify playoff position. Other teams will be trying to get that last piece to be an NBA title contender. One final group will be moving the pieces from their team to needy teams in order to build towards seasons to come. The third group is where we likely find the Portland Trail Blazers at 20-28, in tenth place in the Western Conference. As of January 26, they are just 1.5 games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans for the final play-in spot.
While the possibility of making the play-in round, or even securing a higher seed and avoiding it altogether is not impossible, it is certainly improbable. The schedule over the last 34 games is favorable, including seven games against Western bottom feeders Oklahoma City and Houston. Damian Lillard is a contender and, once healthy, would not be content with Portland missing the playoffs.
That said, the team has gaping holes. The guards are extremely poor on defense, the forwards struggle to guard athletic wings, and scoring away from the guard position is spotty at best. So this list takes a look at the entire roster and grades the chance that the player will be finding a new home in February.
TIER 1: Back Your Bags Now
Robert Covington, Ben McLemore
The interest in Covington is already ramping up, with at least five teams interested, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. While Portland gave up a first-round pick for the 3-and-D wing, the team has made it clear that they want to avoid the repeater luxury tax. Moving Covington’s deal makes the most sense, especially as Covington has struggled mightily in Portland. He has posted career lows in nearly every category since his arrival.
McLemore falls more under the “Fix it and flip it” style of free agency. Picked up on a veteran’s minimum, McLemore has surprised teams with his scoring off the bench when covering for the Blazers’ severe injury woes. His scoring has reached levels not seen since his rookie contract with Sacramento after the Kings selected him seventh overall. While the return would not be much, a team with bench scoring needs could undoubtedly send a 2ndround pick for his services.
TIER 2: Nobody Wants To Send Assets For You
Jarron Cumberland, Tony Snell, CJ Elleby, Cameron McGriff, Reggie Perry, Trendon Watford, Brandon Williams, Dennis Smith Jr.
Fairly clear about this group. They will be on the team for the foreseeable future simply because they do not provide enough value to another team to bother trading for them. Elleby and Watford have shown sparks of solid play, but this entire group will either be salary filler for a large deal or be here till the end of the season. Snell is by far the biggest disappointment in this group.
TIER 3: We Cannot Actually Trade You, Even Though We Want To
Cody Zeller, Keljin Blevins
Zeller is unmovable because of his knee surgery, which will keep him out past the deadline. Blevins will be in town if his cousin, Damian Lillard, is.
TIER 4: We Will Listen To Deals, But You Better Overpay
Greg Brown III, Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons, Larry Nance Jr.
The young players’ group is here. Brown is definitely unlike the others, barely seeing the court. However, his youth and athletic upside make trading him unpalatable. Little and Simons are the team’s future, even with Simons being a restricted free agent at the end of the year and therefore due for a hefty raise. Paying 62 percent of the cap on two undersized guards who cannot defend was bad enough. Making it even higher to keep Simons would be exponentially worse. Little has taken a big step forward this season. Nance has underwhelmed, but Portland already paid a premium to get him and would want to get at least even value on the way out. If any of these four were to be moved, Simons would be the most likely given the salary situation. That said…
TIER 5: We Are Willing To Deal, But Not Give Them Away
Norman Powell, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic
Given the salary situation with the Blazers, moving McCollum and finally putting an end to the “All Offense, No Defense” experiment in Portland would probably be best for both sides. With that in mind, moving McCollum’s hefty contract and getting back equal value is going to be a challenge. Portland is looking at the unfortunate problem of getting back either an equally bad contract with a pick or contracts with more guaranteed money and a pick or prospects. Finding the ideal trade partner of one or two picks plus young players simply is not going to happen with McCollum’s current value to other general managers. While the name has been talking to death so often in these circles that the conversation owns a condo in the ninth circle, Cleveland and Kevin Love might be the answer, with the Blazers getting Love and a 1st while Cleveland gets a high scorer to replace the injured Collin Sexton as they continue their surprise run through the Eastern Conference. Powell and Nurkic are not in nearly as bad of a boat, but Powell’s new contract makes taking him a long-term plan that teams might balk at sending assets for. Nurkic’s value as an interior finisher suffers similarly, and Portland may decide to keep him simply because there is not a realistic market for him.
TIER 6: A Paul George Or James Harden Haul Or Pass
This is the trade that gives the Blazers the most in return. However, unless Portland is getting at least four first-round picks, plus decent assets to make the salaries work, it is not happening. Moving Lillard would be crippling to not just the team’s ability to compete but in the ticket sales and jersey sales department. At a time when Jody Allen is trying to pump up the team’s value to cash out after the proposed Las Vegas and Seattle expansion teams go through, moving Lillard would be devastating to the team’s financials. The deal is there if they look hard enough. Philadelphia would happily send Ben Simmons plus picks. New York would realistically send RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, and four firsts, plus salary filler to make the books cook. Even Golden State would love to bring Damian home to Oakland with James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga heading the package. Watching Golden State try to make Lillard and Stephen Curry work with Klay Thompson pulling a Norman Powell and switching to small forward might be worth the entertainment value by itself.
This trade may as well be dead in the water before it even starts. The chance is not zero. That is higher than previous years for sure, and the Blazers will need to evaluate their options carefully. Their future depends on it.