The Portland Trail Blazers have garnered significant attention this offseason, particularly with the No. 3 overall pick they secured in the 2023 NBA Draft. Many fans, players, and NBA executives are eager to see what moves they will make involving the pick.
It’s a crucial decision for the Portland front office to make – whether to rebuild around the pick and trade Damian Lillard for younger assets or to trade the pick for more veteran help and try to win now while Lillard is coming off a career-best season.
While many reports lean toward the latter option, the ultimate decision is yet to be made as the Blazers still have weeks to go before the 2023 NBA Draft on June 22.
This article focuses on potential trade targets whose current teams undervalue them for one reason or another and would not necessarily require the Blazers to give up a “star package” return, given their respective situations.
These players could complement Lillard, Jerami Grant (if Portland can re-sign him), and any co-star acquired in exchange for the No. 3 overall draft pick. That selection is a significant asset to give up; this handful of players would still be solid options but wouldn’t require Portland to trade that pick away.
Discount trade target No. 1: Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
After reaching the NBA Finals in 2021, Phoenix has fallen short in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Ayton’s frustration is palpable, with outbursts even occurring during games.
The Suns need depth and role players after their blockbuster trade for Kevin Durant. They are now top-heavy with Durant and Devin Booker and need to spend this offseason building around that duo.
Trading Ayton could make sense for the Suns, as he’s underperformed relative to their expectations of him as the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.
With new owner Mat Ishbia at the helm, Phoenix has already shown a willingness to make bold moves. The Suns traded for Durant shortly after Ishbia took over the franchise and also fired Monty Williams after losing to the Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs.
Ayton may benefit from a change of scenery and has been involved in trade rumors before Phoenix’s exit from this season’s playoffs. Given their mutual dissatisfaction and the Suns’ pressing need for depth pieces, the former No. 1 overall pick could be had for a relative bargain.
Potential Blazers trade package for Ayton:
ESPN’s trade machine projection: Blazers +5 wins
A package mentioned in another RIp City Project article was “Simons, Nassir Little, the 2023 first-round pick from the Knicks (23rd overall), and a depth piece, such as Trendon Watford or Keon Johnson.”
These two trade proposals share a similarity: Simons and the 23rd overall pick. The specific details regarding Nurkic, Little, or additional depth would need to be worked out.
Should either of these trades go through, the Suns would gain several players who could play alongside Durant and Booker with Simons being the focal piece.
Simons would fit in seamlessly as a shooter to stretch the floor and allow Booker and Durant to work their magic. Furthermore, Simons can create opportunities for his teammates, benefiting the Suns’ elite shooters. As a bonus, he would also serve as a bridge for the aging Chris Paul, who is now 38.
How Ayton would fit with Blazers
Ayton’s game is impressive, with a great mid-range shot and a soft touch around the rim. He averaged 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 0.8 blocks this season on 59/29/76 shooting splits.
Ayton is a promising young player with plenty of potential for growth. One area in which he could improve is being more aggressive in exploiting mismatches in the low post rather than settling for a turnaround jumper against smaller guards.
Additionally, he has shown some inconsistencies on both offense and defense, but has demonstrated the ability to play at a high level in short bursts. Overall, Ayton is a talented player who has the potential to become a dominant force on the court as he continues to develop.
Compared to Nurkic, who averaged 13.3 points per game this year, Ayton would be a significant upgrade at the center position. He would work well with Lillard in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop situations.
Defensively, Ayton is more agile and would be a better option for the Blazers’ current problem of not having a versatile big that can switch out onto the perimeter.
All the skills and athleticism that made Ayton the No. 1 pick are still there, and a change of scenery could be the thing to bring more of it out of him.