PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers need to do something drastic this offseason. Fans in Oregon should be expecting something big with a roster of players prime for the trade market and three first-round picks in GM Neil Olshey’s pocket for the 2017 NBA Draft.
Who should Portland go after? That is a tough question to answer.
The Blazers are not exactly a huge free agent destination, although the city is changing its reputation toward NBA players in recent years with the help of star players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have fully embraced Oregon’s largest city.
McCollum, in fact, has his own opinion on who the Blazers should go after this summer: Indiana Pacers star Paul George.
— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) April 27, 2017
George, who is under contract for 2017-18 but has a player option for 2018-19, has been rumored to desire playing in Los Angeles. In any case, fans around the league are looking at George as a potential trade candidate.
He would certainly do well on the Blazers, who had a disappointing 41-41 season in 2016-17. After a surprising effort last year, the Trail Blazers were slotted to expand upon their finish in 2016. But a sluggish start from Damian Lillard mixed with one of the worst defensive rosters in the NBA found them battling for the No. 8 seed come the end of the season. Even still, a miraculous stretch of good play after the All-Star Game was what it took for the Blazers to beat out the likes of Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the final playoff spot.
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We know now that the Blazers were swept by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, and up here in the Northwest it only solidified the fact Portland needs to get better on the wing.
Last season, Al-Farouq Aminu showed he could shoot a league average percentage from 3-point range, which helped relieve some pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. But Aminu regressed to shooting 33 percent from deep in 2017, and although Maurice Harkless did an excellent job as a young starter he’s not yet the kind of dynamic offensive player the Blazers need to be a Top 4 team in the West.
Aminu projects for Portland better as a 4, and with Jusuf Nurkic now anchoring the center position, the goal for Portland will be to strengthen the wing and flesh out the bench.
George would be an excellent get, but the Blazers would need to have the salaries match in any trade with Indiana. Allen Crabbe seems the most likely option, given his RFA match for Portland was a clear move to retain an asset. Evan Turner occupied a lot of guard minutes for Portland, and it seems the Blazers aim to keep him.
Meanwhile, you have other players like Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis who still have some value and could help Portland’s cap situation or work as part of a trade with Indiana.
POTENTIAL PAUL GEORGE TRADES
Portland gets: Paul George, Monta Ellis
Indiana gets: Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless, Noah Vonleh, two 2017 draft picks (No. 15, No. 20)
Why Portland does it: Taking on Ellis’ bad contract is the price to pay for acquiring a superstar like Paul George.
Why Indiana does it: They might not. That’s a lot of salary to take back. But getting young, cost-controlled player with upside in Vonleh, a young, talented small forward with a reasonable contract in Harkless, and two first-round draft selections that might be enough to sweeten the pot and take on Crabbe’s contract.
Portland gets: Paul George
Indiana gets: Moe Harkless, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, two 2017 draft picks (No. 15, No. 20)
Why Portland does it: To get Paul George.
Why Indiana does it: They might not. But a package of two good young players in Harkless and Vonleh, two first-round draft picks and a veteran center with one year left on his contract, isn’t bad. That’s decent value for George.
Portland gets: Paul George
Indiana gets: CJ McCollum
Why Portland does it: They might not. But there’s no guarantee the Pacers will trade George unless they get a star in return. Other than giving up McCollum, the Blazers would have to think twice about this considering the rumors that George is determined to end up a Laker after his contract ends after the 2017-18 season.
Why Indiana does it: Star power in return for George. Instead of losing him for nothing, they get a shooting guard who would probably make the All-Star team in the East. The Pacers would have to add another $4.6 million in salary to make this deal work. Lance Stephenson, with one year left on his contract, would fit.
— Jared Cowley, KGW.com
Having watched Portland closely the past six seasons or so, and seeing how parts of this roster has developed, it would make the most sense to add a third star to this team. Turner hamstrings the bench unit with his gargantuan $17 million salary next season, so building out the bench unit under him still won’t put the Blazers in a position to compete with the top teams in the West without another star.
I think the clearest way to capitalize on the prime part of the careers for Lillard and McCollum is to grab another star right now. George might be out of reach — and he reportedly wants to play in LA anyway — but I think the Blazers should think big this offseason. Whether that means trading for George or doing something else bold remains to be seen.
KGW digital producer Jared Cowley contributed to this report.
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