The Portland Trail Blazers, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and the rest of their roster are currently 8-6, tied for the fifth seed with the San Antonio Spurs. While it’s still very early in the season, the Blazers aren’t off to the start many expected to them have. On top of that, the team is now in a bout with the injury bug.
Center Jusuf Nurkic and shooting guard CJ McCollum– who was off to a career start to the season– are both expected to miss extended time. They will join back power forward Zach Collins on the sidelines. The way the Western Conference is set up, the current injury list can easily set Portland out of the playoff picture, a been there done that situation that the Blazers don’t want to do again.
To avoid being there again, here are three panic button trades the Blazers need to make.
3. Al Horford
The Blazers lost their depth down low with the injury to Nurkic– already down a big with Collins sidelined.
Now they have to rely on Kanter to man the middle. Knowing that the Oklahoma City Thunder are entering rebuild mode, the Blazers may be able to trade for Al Horford.
Horford is a reliable vet who has made deep runs in the playoffs. He can pop the three, facilitate, and defend his position if the Blazers got him.
The hold up would be Horford’s contract. His current status in the league does not match his contract. The Blazers would likely have to give up all four of their 2021 second round draft picks along with Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons.
The Thunder would receive a young, springy four, in Little, and a rising point guard– who could play with and behind Shau Giuldreos Alexander. The Blazers would receive a solid scoring threat who has proven his worth in the playoffs. With the current state of the Western Conference, they may have to grit their teeth and make this deal.
2. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber
Moving to a younger possibility, the Blazers could cut decide that the Lillard McCollum era is coming to an end, and decide to trade McCollum.
The Dallas Mavericks are another team who haven’t gotten off to the start they would’ve hoped for and may need to shale things up. They could use a player of McCollum’s stature to not only serve as another playmaker in their starting lineup but as a leader in the locker room. The Mavs are young and talented but lack the experience needed to pull out close games.
The Blazers are fun and exciting, but their backcourt is too small to defend in the postseason. Adding Tim Hardawy Jr. to either the starting lineup or the bench would give the Blazers a natural backcourt– lengthwise. Maxi Kleber isn’t the rim-protecting type of big, but he can pop the three and is very young. For what the Blazers want to do on offense, surrounding Lillard with quality shooters is a must. Portland would get two knockdown three-point shooters without injury history.
McCollum, with the Blazers, is undersized for the two slot but Luka Doncic is an extremely tall point guard, so it cancels out. McCollum would be able to guard his natural position, and the Mavs would have a great on-ball defender to guard the elite point guards in their conference.
Dallas would likely have to throw in their 2023 first-round pick to the Blazers as well.
Top Blazers target:
1. Lonzo Ball
The Blazers rely on McCollum and Lillard to be their playmakers every minute of each game. That formula hasn’t worked out in the past, and now that McCollum is out for some time they will need another person who can create for others.
The Pelicans have that person. Lonzo Ball is an elite playmaker and defends at a high level– an area that the current Portland backcourt struggles in.
Portland has high hopes and aspirations every year. They play well in the regular season, garner hype, and then fizzle out in the playoffs. They struggle in the playoffs because they are an undersized backcourt with one defensive liability and another undersized defender. Damian Lillard is an underwhelming defender. He struggles to stay in front of the ball and is usually the guy late on the rotations. McCollum is actually a very good defender, but he is only 6’3 and has to defend the two slot– a position that sees players 6’6 and up.
Ball is 6’6 with a 6’9 wingspan. Not only does he stay in front of the Ball, but he also is an excellent help side defender. He has shown he can play off the ball, and with Lillard as a Blazers teammate, he would have more space to attack the basket.
On his current team, he has to play the role of a spot-up shooter, something that hasn’t been his strong suit in the league– though he has shown improvement. With the Blazers, he won’t have to be an elite three-point shooter. Instead, he will be able to be a slasher who can also shoot the ball– his actual game.
The Blazers will then be able to stagger Ball and Lillard’s minute to ensure that there is a playmaker on the floor at all times, and they will also have someone who can create for Dame– taking a load off of him.
This move upgrades them defensively and offensively and won’t force them to break the bank since Ball is still on his rookie contract. The Blazers would be able to trade Rodney Hood for Ball head up.
The Blazers would gain a playmaker and the Pelicans add a reliable three-point threat of open up the lanes for Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.