The February 10 NBA trade deadline is fast approaching, and the Portland Trail Blazers’ decent January could be clouding their front office plans
With the NBA trade deadline two weeks from tomorrow, the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to be active in the market. Portland has seven players who will be unrestricted free agents this summer and three who will be restricted, including breakout phenom Anfernee Simons.
But the Blazers are also playing their best basketball of the season, despite being without Damian Lillard for this month and at least one more. Jusuf Nurkic has looked appropriately beastly in January, averaging 17.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game for the month.
Simons has also shone since the New Year, putting up 24.3 points and 7.2 points per game and powering the Blazers to an 8-7 mark in the month after a 12-20 start.
When the ball dropped in Times Square a few weeks ago, Portland, ravaged by injuries and COVID, appeared headed straight for Tankville.
And one more time, no, that does not mean they should trade him while he recovers from abdominal surgery. But their relative success without him means aiming for the lottery and one of the first three picks in a very top-heavy draft no longer appears to be the only path for Portland.
Of course the root issues facing interim general manager Joe Cronin remain the same: too much skill overlap at the top of the roster, a top-heavy salary cap situation facing them next year, and the roster attrition facing them this summer.
Nurkic and Robert Covington and their medium-sized expiring contracts are likely to be dealt before the deadline, but projecting all possible paths for the Blazers front office is like trying to read a Choose Your Own Adventure book front to back. It’s easy to get lost in the loops.
While I am still on Team Tank, that’s only helpful if they can get into the top three. Without a shot at Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, or Chet Holmgren, they’re better off making the playoffs and sending their first pick this year to Chicago. On the other hand, losing a mid-round pick in a shallow draft may not be the worst long-term option.
Simons’ play in Lillard and CJ McCollum’s absences has boosted the possibility they will deal McCollum or Norman Powell to clear the cap room necessary to resign Simons this summer, and Nassir Little will be in the same situation next year.
So each decision made in the next two weeks will have cascading effects for the two youngsters, along with the half-dozen Blazers on veteran minimum or mid-level exception deals. This is still a talented enough roster – with or without Lillard – to make a decent run at the playoffs. It could also be torn apart and rebuilt with the future in mind in a matter of days.
It’s rare that the NBA trade deadline comes with such league-wide anticipation. But while there are several marquee players who have been mentioned in lots of trade rumors and discussions, there hasn’t been much significant movement yet.
But once that first domino falls it will be chaos for days. And when we get to the other side, the Blazers roster should look somewhat different. Whether it will inspire hope for this season or next is yet to be determined.