3 big-name centers Blazers could swing for the fences on this offseason

Jusuf Nurkic (left), Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images)
Jusuf Nurkic (left), Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images) /
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The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the most significant disappointments in the NBA in 2022-23. Despite Damian Lillard’s best efforts, the Blazers are continuing to tumble down the Western Conference standings.

That’s not to say there haven’t been pleasant surprises. Anfernee Simons had his breakout year. Shaedon Sharpe has shown flashes of all-star potential during his rookie season. Jerami Grant has slotted in almost flawlessly.

Still, here we are.

Jusuf Nurkic wasn’t having his best season as a Blazer, to put it nicely, and he’s now missed more than a month with a calf injury. Drew Eubanks has earned himself an NBA roster spot with the way he’s played in relief. But the 6-foot-9 Eubanks and the 6-8 Trendon Watford cannot be Portland’s answer to the backup center question.

At this point, none of those three can be the answer to any center question.

The Trail Blazers are 27th in defense, 27th in rebounding, and allow nearly 53 points per game in the paint. General manager Joe Cronin simply cannot go into next season with the spare parts he currently has up front.

Taking a major swing at a big-name center will require Cronin to put real assets on the table. That would include, but wouldn’t be limited to, Simons, Sharpe, and multiple future first-round picks.

The packages themselves will vary, but here are three solutions to Portland’s massive center problem.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

On that list of most disappointing NBA teams, perhaps right below “Portland Trail Blazers” could lie “Minnesota Timberwolves.”

The T-Wolves made an all-in trade of their own for a center last offseason, dealing an unnecessarily enormous package to Utah for Rudy Gobert. The idea was that Gobert’s defense would fit well beside Towns’ offensive skillset, which includes range from beyond the arc.

This would solve some of Minnesota’s defensive issues, while also unlocking improved pick-and-roll possibilities between Anthony Edwards and Gobert, or even Towns and Gobert.

But KAT has only played 21 games this year, so the Wolves haven’t had a chance to take a serious look at their shiny new big three. When he has played, though, it hasn’t been fantastic.

When Towns, Gobert, and Edwards play together, Minnesota is 9-10 overall. Any lineup featuring that trio turns the ball over almost 7.5 times in less than 20 minutes, barely shoots 30 percent from three, and has a plus-minus of 0.3.

Lineups with those three on the floor aren’t even among Minnesota’s top five in rebounding or blocked shots.

The Wolves could pull the plug as quickly as possible and send the two-time All-NBA center to Portland. His pick-and-roll partnership with Dame would immediately prove more beneficial to both parties, especially with his ability to space the floor.

Whether it’s pick-and-pop or just as a spot-up shooter, having a big man who is a significant threat from deep (career 39.3 percent 3-point shooter) would give Lillard a host of new options to exploit.

KAT is also adept on the block and in the midrange. In terms of pure scoring skillset, the three-time All-Star may be the best the league has to offer at the center position.

He’s no slouch on the glass or on defense either, averaging 11.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks for his career. He was putting up 5.2 assists per night this year before he got injured, as well. Towns is a 7-foot offensive force.

The questions arise when it comes to his basketball IQ and effort level. Put him next to Dame, though, and those questions become less important to answer.