The Portland Trail Blazers were the busiest team in the NBA leading up to the trade deadline, and will have a host of decisions to make regarding the 2022-23 roster
In the week before the NBA trade deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers traded three of their opening night starters for a host of younger and cheaper players and a handful of draft picks. The moves cleared an impending salary cap disaster coming this summer and made the Blazers a much more versatile and multi-faceted team.
But the front office is probably as shocked as the media and fan base by the four straight wins since trading away CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Tony Snell, and Larry Nance Jr. The highly criticized moves are looking better and better with each possession, as Josh Hart and Justise Winslow make their cases for a long-term spot in the Blazers locker room.
But maybe-soon-to-be-no-longer-just-the-interim general manager Joe Cronin still has moves to make regarding the expiring deals and available buyouts facing him this summer. The Blazers have seven new players on the roster to evaluate, and at least four new deals to negotiate.
Just five players are locked down for next year: Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, Greg Brown III, Justise WInslow, and Keon Johnson. Re-signing Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic will be top priority, but Cronin will have a tremendous amount of flexibility in shaping the roster for next season and beyond.
We figured we’d offer our advice, even though nobody asked.
Damian Lillard: keep
With the new team’s performance without him, even we here at Rip City Project have to question if the Blazers might be better off dealing their franchise cornerstone. They won’t. He deserves a chance to play with a roster that complements him, and that’s what the Blazers have now.
Anfernee Simons: keep
All the moves mean nothing if Simons walks as a restricted free agent, but fully expect the Blazers to match any offers he gets, up to and including a max deal. He’s shown he’s worth it the last month or two.
Jusuf Nurkic: keep
Nurkic’s inspired play the last few weeks has inspired a personal reversal regarding his usefulness. He’s still relatively young at 27 and has an excellent rapport with Lillard – and is developing one with Simons. Can probably be had for three years at less than $50 million.
Josh Hart: keep
Hart has been the big surprise of the trade deadline season, with 72 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists, and a plus-42 in the three games he’s played with the Blazers. He has a team option for next season and a player option for the following one at just under $13 million and would be a tremendous bargain if he keeps up his current level of play.
Nassir Little: keep
He’ll be the one getting the giant raise in the summer of 2023, and his promise and salary just north of $4 million will make him a valuable trade chip, but Little can be an integral part of the Blazers’ future.
Justise Winslow: keep
Winslow brings a versatility and elite defensive intensity the Blazers haven’t had since Buck Williams patrolled the Rose Garden hardwood. He’s also expiring next year at a little over $4 million but appears to be making a quick comfortable home in Portland.
Eric Bledsoe: dump
Bledsoe has a $3.9 million buyout option due at the end of June, and will either be handed a bag of cash or dealt as a potential $18 million-plus expiring deal. Almost definitely will never see the court for the Blazers.
Keon Johnson: keep
It would be great to see what Johnson can do on the court but last year’s seventh overall pick is out with an ankle injury. He’s just 19 and has the longest-running contract on team, through 2025.
Joe Ingles: dump
The 34-year old doesn’t seem to have a place on this team with Hart and Winslow playing so well, and the Blazers will likely just happily watch his almost $12.5 million figure fall off their books on July 1.
Trendon Watford: keep
Watford has been another emergent force for Portland, averaging 6.4 points and 5 rebounds per game in 18.4 minutes in February. He’s due a $1.5 million qualifying offer this summer but has earned a multi-year deal at probably four times that. The Blazers now have the room for this kind of move and should make this particular one.
Greg Brown III: keep
It’s no secret we love Greg Brown, and despite his erratic play against Memphis, he can do things you can’t teach. And he’s the most fun to watch Blazer since Clyde Drexler.
Elijah Hughes: keep
Hughes is on an expiring $1.5 million deal and could probably be had for the veteran minimum, and Portland will need to fill out the roster cheaply. At 23, he might find a spot here.
Ben McLemore: keep
McLemore has made himself a fan favorite with his incendiary shooting stretches and solid on-ball defense. He’ll get some attention in unrestricted free agency, but hopefully he’ll reward the Blazers with a modest multi-year deal to back up Lillard and Simons.
Dennis Smith, Jr: dump
The Blazers are probably in an either-or situation with Smith and McLemore, both of whom signed cheap deals for this season and have played well in their league-wide auditions.
Didi Louzada: dump
Another young and cheap asset they could hang onto for depth purposes, but there may not be room for him on the roster.
CJ Elleby: dump
He appears to be a favorite of Chauncey Billups, but Elleby is too much like Hart, Winslow, and Little and not nearly as good as any of them.