We may be just a quarter of the way through the 2023-24 NBA season, but next week marks an important date. Friday, December 15, is when most players who signed contracts over the summer can be dealt, meaning the market opens up and trade season is unofficially underway.
With the actual trade deadline still two months from now (February 8), there’s plenty of time for rumors to tornado in and out of news feeds. And over the next eight weeks, expect two names from Portland to touchdown more than most.
Malcolm Brogdon and Jerami Grant will be rumor-mill mainstays this trade season. Brogdon, with just two years on his current deal, could look like the missing piece to a win-now puzzle. Grant, meanwhile, represents the scoring, stretchy forward every good team needs.
The question, of course, as Joe Cronin’s phone starts ringing like he’s Miss Cleo circa ’98 is: Trade? Or Keep?
That’s the exercise today with both Grant and Brogdon on our minds.
*Hit the Oregon Sports News comments to share if you’d trade either of Portland’s vets this season.
It’s been a good long while since the Blazers held one of the league’s premier trade assets. No, this isn’t Zach LaVine, many contenders’ No. 1 target. But during the Damian Lillard era, it was all “buy” and no “sell” at each deadline, with the word “rebuild” nowhere found in Lillard’s vocabulary.
This year, it’s the exact opposite.
Cronin enters trade season with assets to flip, Brogon chief among them. Contenders who missed out on Lillard, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, and other guards this past offseason are salivating at the 30-year-old’s production, and even some surprise up-and-coming teams could expedite their rebuilds at the cost of future draft capital.
As of late November, it was reported that a Brogdon trade could potentially return a 2024-protected first-round pick. If you’re Cronin, holding out until closer to the deadline makes sense if you can start a bidding war aimed at shrinking those protections. But the GM has also made it clear that the direction of the franchise is youth. Brogdon isn’t a part of that long-term vision, and despite his leadership, his usage does limit Scoot Henderson’s touches to an extent. That’s all part of what goes into the complex equation that is Brogdon’s role on this roster.
Trade or Keep: Trade. But not yet.
If you’re Cronin, don’t put so much pressure on the young backcourt that you start building a losing culture roughly 20 games into the experiment. A losing record can be a stepping stone; a losing culture is always a bad, bad omen.
So far in 2023, Brogdon has been something between a breath of fresh air and a godsend for the Trail Blazers. It’s true. Maybe you’ve thought to yourself that he’s playing too much isolation or that his game isn’t always the prettiest. But think about this, honestly: If you’ve had any fun at all watching Portland this season, Brogdon was probably a part of that. That means something. Because youth movements are messy, and without someone running the show through the first 20 games, the backcourt would’ve been shut down in ways that would have killed even Santa’s Christmas spirit. You just can’t have that this time of year.
Of course, this is all to say that things got off to a rough start for the Blazers, and they’re just now at a point where the long-term guards can be healthy and play. They haven’t had the 20-game start they wanted, which means they still need time before they’re thrown into the deep end.
Brogdon staying on this roster will buy them that time. That is, until Billups is ready to let the kids loose after the deadline.
Due to Grant re-signing with the Blazers instead of leaving as a free agent—as well as other details involving his percentage of the team’s overall salary—Grant can’t be traded until January 15. That’s a whole month after most recent free agents can be dealt, but that won’t stop speculation of what’s to come.
So far this season, Grant has looked like a past version of himself—in a good way. He’s taken on go-to scoring for a bad team, and the role looks good on him, as he’s averaging 22.1 points and shooting 41.2 percent from three on a career-high 6.3 attempts per night.
This far removed from his Detroit Pistons days, Grant also has an added level of maturity to his game. That tends to come with playing alongside stars like Lillard both in Portland and with Team USA, and it’s what championship hopefuls are looking for in elite second and third options.
The catch to Grant as a trade chip? That contract. Five years, $160 million will be tough to move. At least, it should prove difficult to flip for assets Cronin finds commensurate with what Grant gives a contender.
Trade or Keep: Keep. Especially if the play is to move Brogdon before the deadline.
At the risk of overgeneralizing, the Blazers still need adults in the room. Even if the goal is to chase a top draft pick while developing a young core, you need players who can instill discipline and a taste for winning without risking a lottery position.
There’s also that contract. It’s been reported that execs are torn on Grant’s value, meaning contenders are split on if the highest-paid third option in the league gets them over the hump and if he’s worth mortgaging futures that often already lack long-term flexibility.
Assuming general managers wait out at least a year of the contract (noting that Grant’s money may become more “valuable” down the road as team salaries rise from the next TV deal), Cronin won’t find what he’s looking for, and he can keep Grant as a mentor. Of course, that’s not all Grant will be, as he’s also one of the most complete talents on the roster right now and someone who can keep Portland in games that the youth might have succumbed to blowouts without him.
On the slim chance the Trail Blazers aren’t contending by next season, retaining Grant also means you keep a trade chip in your deadline war chest for 2025. I know we’re getting ahead of ourselves … But let me tell you, GMs have trade scenarios for years built out on whiteboards as we speak. And if this next week is going to teach us anything about this league, it’s that there’s no such thing as “too soon” when talking NBA trades.
‘Tis the season for anonymous sources and rampant speculation, folks.
Happy trade season!