Jason Quick of The Athletic recently joined Isaac and Suke of 1080 the Fan to discuss the Portland Trail Blazers and their strategy heading into the trade deadline. Quick relayed some information obtained via an interview with Jusuf Nurkic that the Blazers’ longtime center was told by Interim General Manager Joe Cronin that he had no plans to trade either Nurk or CJ McCollum.
Instead, like his predecessor before him, Neil Olshey, Cronin intends to construct a championship contender around the core of Damian Lillard, Nurkic, and CJ.
Of course, this may be just simple lip service from Cronin — a seasoned salary cap expert thrown into the ringer following Olshey’s investigation — but this sentiment is certainly concerning to Portland Trail Blazers fans.
Rumors: The Portland Trail Blazers will not trade Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum
The entire idea of trying to build a contender around Damian Lillard, Nurkic, and CJ McCollum is a faulty one, at least through the actions that the Portland Trail Blazers have taken thus far.
In the same interview, Quick mentioned that rising star Anfernee Simons should be deemed as untouchable to other teams. Simons is a restricted free agent this summer. There’s no doubt that at least a few teams will throw a significant purse at the young guard to try to pry him away from Portland. Since he’s restricted, the Trail Blazers have the option to match any contract offer that he receives.
If Cronin does intend to keep Dame, CJ, Nurk, and Simons, he needs to have a conversation with Jody Allen about hitting the luxury tax. In 2022-2023, Portland will have over $75 million of their projected $119 salary cap committed to just Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Factoring in a $10 million per year deal for Jusuf Nurkic, that leaves just $34 million for Cronin to parse between Simons, any remaining contracts on the team, and whoever else he hopes to sign to fill out the roster in free agency.
With Lillard, Nurkic, McCollum, and Simons off of the table, Cronin is only left with Robert Covington, Norman Powell, Larry Nance Jr., and Nassir Little as desirable assets that he can use in trades to build a contender.
While each of those players can serve as formidable trade chips, no combination will be capable of netting the Trail Blazers a significant enough return to elevate them to true contender status.
The best play would be to tank the rest of the season, with the first step completed with Lillard undergoing surgery to repair his abdominal tendinopathy. If the team can accumulate enough losses to land a top-three pick, this will allow them to add a game-changing talent on a rookie-scale deal.
Normally, they’d be able to package the draft selection along with some of their other assets in order to land a star via trade. However, if Cronin keeps Lillard, Nurk, McCollum, and Simons, it’ll be rather difficult to navigate the financial roadblocks in a trade — as nearly all star-level players currently come with a $30 million+ price tag or are young prospects on rebuilding teams.
With Portland currently holding just the ninth-best lottery odds and the second-easiest remaining schedule according to Tankathon, it seems unlikely that their 2022 first-round pick will either net them a star via draft or trade.
Most likely, Cronin will have:
- a late-lottery pick
- minimal room to work with in free agency
- medium trade assets
- the developments of Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little
to turn the core of Dame, CJ, and Nurk into a true title team. Let’s hope that he was just saying what Nurkic wanted to hear.