Jumping To Conclusions About The Portland Trail Blazers On NBA Leap Day

Bryant Knox | Oregon Sports News

NBA Leap Day is upon us, marking just the 20th time that the league, under any name, has played a game on February 29 in a Leap Year.

In the spirit of the day, we’re jumping to conclusions about the Portland Trail Blazers with reasonably hot takes from the first three-quarters of the 2023-24 season.

Ready to take a leap, Rip City?

The water is warm, and the future is, without a doubt, bright ahead.

Time to jump in.

Shaedon Sharpe Will Win an NBA Dunk Contest

The theme of the day is leaps, so let’s start sky-walking out the gate.

Personally, I can’t think of many players whose tomahawks ever reached as far back as Shaedon Sharpe’s.

If looking for comps, think peak-Zach LaVine’s fluidity. Then, add Gerald Green’s rim-kissing athleticism. Toss in Vince Carter’s sheer artistry while you’re at it—not to mention his proclivity for posters—and from there, you have someone Chauncey Billups deemed a “Half Man Half Amazing”-half-Brandon Roy combo during his age-19 rookie season.

That’s pretty special if you ask me. And it’s why Shaedon, for years to come, might be a sweet dream and flying machine leaving pieces of defenders on the ground.

Chaunce Billups Will Not Be Head Coach Next Season

If you follow Trail Blazers discourse, you’ve come across the Chauncey Billups hot seat.

Or at least, you’ve seen a corner of Rip City cranking the seat warmers to max ahead of the home stretch.

So far, it’s been easy for Billups to counter with one simple fact: He has been dealt a raw hand. And that’s putting it nicely.

In 2021, the first-year head coach was brought in by a general manager few could stand and who was booted a half-year later. Billups was told to sit his star player each of his first two seasons for draft purposes (or, really, to boost trade chips that were never dealt). And then, that star was traded two summers into the experiment, forcing a rebuild that contains long-term pieces but looks incapable of competing anytime soon.

But let’s pause there for a second. Because in that last part, it starts to fade from circumstance, and then it starts to point toward a coach failing to clear a pretty low bar. And pretty badly.

Losses piling up isn’t what’s bad for this version of the Trail Blazers. It’s the losses themselves that look baaaaad more often than not, as Portland owns the third-worst average scoring margin this season and infamously lost a game by 62 points to OKC this calendar year.

That’s the reality. This hasn’t been a full-on Texas Hold ‘Em fold from Billups, but we’ve seen a young core taking regular, embarrassing losses, circumstance aside.

That’s not great, Bob.

This part of the experiment might be winding down.

Deandre Ayton Is Not the Long-Term Center

Everything about this season is an experiment. But no matter what happens by Game 82—or even over the next year-plus—the Ayton part was always worth it.

To start, keeping Jusuf Nurkic in Portland without Lillard made little sense. Nurk’s contract is decent, but swapping bigs who could benefit from fresh starts was obvious. And getting a player at the right position who’s also on the same career arc as your core is a big deal.

As it’s turned out, the Ayton part of Rip City’s project has been a mixed bag, as you might’ve expected. And yes, the center’s future is equally tough to gauge.

Reporting from The Athletic’s Jason Quick recently put Ayton in a light DA never wanted. Readers and aggregators latched onto themes of moodiness and tardiness, and the story was fuel for anyone who’s decided they’re anti-Ayton dating back to his Suns days or as recent as his viral “DNP-snow day.”

Overall, Ayton’s time in Portland has been, again, what you might’ve expected. There have been ups. There have been some downs. Shocking, right?

What’s disappointing is that Ayton hasn’t looked much, if at all, better than he looked in Phoenix. He’s having one of the worst seasons in NBA history, drawing fouls as a volume center. And the 7-footer has yet to become a regular offensive focal point.

That’s all despite joining a roster where he could earn touches alongside the young guards learning their way.

It’s tough to picture Ayton here in the long term, although, to be fair, this study needs time to develop one way or the other.

Anfernee Simons Won’t Hit the Trade Block Anytime Soon

Hot take, right?

A 24-year-old, maybe your best player—if not your best prospect in some ways—won’t hit the trade block “anytime soon.”

I promise you, if this isn’t a hot take, it’s at least lukewarm. The reality is that this prediction also has a real chance of being disproved.

Anfernee Simons, despite being something between Portland’s best and most entertaining player most nights, could be dealt with within his contract. Since signing that four-year, $100 million deal, it’s looked like one of the better-value contracts for a star-in-the-making yet to scrap his potential.

There’s something to remember here, though. Simons is not one of “Cronin’s guys.” He’s not a Shaedon or a Scoot drafted by Cronin. We don’t know “Trade Joe’s” MOs just yet, but GMs tend to latch on to “their guys,” and in this case, that might not include a Simons approaching the wrong side of 25.

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