The closer we get to the 2023 NBA Draft on June 22, the more rumors we hear about the Trail Blazers making a trade involving the No. 3 pick to acquire veteran, win-now help. There’s still the possibility Portland goes another route and begins a rebuild, but the chatter about making any Damian Lillard trade seems to get quieter as the draft approaches.
However unlikely that scenario is, though, there’s still an outside chance general manager Joe Cronin and Lillard come together and decide its time for the Blazers to rebuild and time for Dame to move on.
The question then becomes, what would a trade of that magnitude look like? Surely it would involve a bevy of draft picks, but how many and from whom? If it includes young players, what kind would Portland be looking for?
The return would have to be massive – or, at least according to Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report, it would be massively underwhelming.
Blazers make Damian Lillard trade and receive pennies on the dollar
Buckley wrote a piece about how three blockbuster trades could impact the top 10 picks of the 2023 NBA Draft. In Buckley’s defense, creating any mock draft is difficult – we don’t know what teams are thinking and we’re not privy to any individual workouts or interviews. Trying to include trades in a mock is an even more daunting task.
Still, Portland’s return for sending away its franchise centerpiece and perhaps the greatest player in team history is … not great. The trade involves three huge mistakes:
Mistake No. 1: Buckley has the Blazers taking Overtime Elite wing Amen Thompson with the No. 3 pick. Thompson is an elite athlete, and as a 6-foot-7 guard, has potentially great skills as a playmaker and defender.
Thompson also, however, is 20 years old, and OTE is not the most competitive league around. It includes 16- and 17-year-olds.
Both Amen and his brother, Ausar, would have been exposed to higher levels of competition in college or with the NBA’s G League Ignite. Amen is the prototypical hit-or-miss prospect – his physical skills could make him an All-Star, or he could spend his NBA career on the end of a bench with teams wondering what might have been.
To make things worse, Ignite guard Scoot Henderson, who’s considered by some to be the best prospect in this class outside of Victor Wembanyama, was still on the board, and the Blazers decided to pass – apparently knowing they were going to trade Lillard anyway by making a pick at No. 3.
Mistake No. 2: The Lillard trade itself.
Blazers receive: Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac, No. 6 pick, No. 11 pick, 2025 first-round pick (top-three protected)
Magic receive: Damian Lillard
Fultz is a starting NBA point guard, but Suggs looks like a career rotation guard after his first two seasons. Isaac is an All-NBA caliber defender when healthy – he’s played a total of 11 games the past three seasons.
Nos. 6 and 11 don’t approach the value of pick No. 3 in this year’s class, and the sweetener of an extra first-rounder two seasons from now that will likely land somewhere in the 20s doesn’t do much for Portland.
Mistake No. 3: The prospects selected at Nos. 6 and 11.
Buckley has the Blazers nabbing forward Jarace Walker from Houston at No. 6. Walker is young and has gobs of potential – especially on the defensive end – and he has more of an offensive game than he was able to show last year with the Cougars.
Still, assuming Lillard is out of the picture, a defense-first prospect with an unknown ceiling isn’t the smartest use of a top-6 pick on a rebuilding roster. Say what you will about Thompson, but at least he’s a huge swing. As a poor free agent destination, Portland’s best chance at building a title-winning roster sans Dame is drafting potential stars, and Walker is not one of those.
With pick No. 11, Buckley has the Blazers drafting sharpshooter Gradey Dick. Dick averaged 14 points and shot nearly 40 percent from three on almost six attempts per game in his lone season at Kansas. He’s not strictly a 3-point specialist like Kyle Korver or Doug McDermott, but he’s not an offensive fulcrum or a defensive menace, either.
Dick coming off the board with the 11th pick isn’t a huge surprise, but him landing with Portland is. A prospect with a potentially high floor but low ceiling isn’t what the Blazers need if their plans are to undergo a massive rebuild.
To recap: The Trail Blazers send away their long-time franchise centerpiece and end up with a roster of Fultz, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Walker, Jusuf Nurkic, Amen Thompson, Suggs, Isaac (theoretically) and Dick to go along with a late first-round pick in 2025.
Not great, Bob.