By PATRICK ROGERS, OREGON SPORTS NEWS
To the surprise of some, the Portland Trail Blazers secured the number three draft pick during the NBA lottery. While compelling prospects are on the board, many say this is the time to trade the pick. Damian Lillard has gone on record saying he is done rebuilding and going into win-now mode. Reporters around the league think that the first step in doing this is trading that number three pick (which could have a potential All-Star caliber player available) for an instant impact player to appease the greatest Trail Blazer player ever. Let’s look at some potential trades surrounding that number three pick for the Blazers.
Jaylen Brown – Al Horford (BOS)
Anfernee Simons – Jusuf Nurkic – #3
In typical Boston fandom overreaction, many are calling for the team to be blown up after their lackluster performance so far in the NBA Playoffs. As I write this, they are down 3-1 versus the Miami Heat. There have been soft rumors that Boston is internally choosing between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and most experts agree that Brown would be the one to be dealt with. Brown is an incredible on-the-ball defender and is one of the most intelligent players in the league. He can also score upwards of 50 points in a game (see last year). Brown’s coming off a career-high 26.6 points per game season and is also entering the final year of his current contract. Once he hits free agency, he is expected to be the most sought-after player in the pool. With Boston only having one pick in this draft, the 35th pick, I can see a world where they send Brown plus Al Horford for Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, and the #3 pick. Why include Nurk and Horford in this? Free agency is all about cap flexibility. Simons and Nurkic will take up about $42 million this year and $44 million next year in the cap. If the Blazers land Brown and convince him to stay, that could make Portland a free-agency destination. As Carmelo Anthony recently said, he wished he had gone to Portland earlier in his career.
Mikal Bridges (BKN)
Anfernee Simons – #3
Out of all of the trades that I looked at, this seems the least likely. However, there are rumblings that the Nets are looking at all their options ahead of the 2023-2024 season. Mikal Bridges, in my opinion, is a similar player to Jayson Tatum. Bridges is just behind Tatum in defensive win shares (3.1 to 4.3) and is a similar shooter in percentages (both at 46% from the field). Now, it’s a lofty comparison, especially when pundits coin Tatum as the next Kobe Bryant, but only a few players can be the team’s best defender and bucket-getter. Considering that, if the Nets want to go in another direction, Simons and the #3 will get it done. Brooklyn owns the 21st and 22nd picks in the draft, and it would be hard for me to see them pick players back-to-back like that. I’m getting flashbacks of when the Minnesota Timberwolves had back-to-back picks and selected Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio. Bridges would immediately impact both ends of the court, but more importantly on defense, where the Blazers struggled last year. Bridges is also slightly cheaper, roughly $3 million less per year. If the Nets are shopping players (most likely Ben Simmons, really), hopefully, Bridges’ landing spot is Portland.
Myles Turner – Buddy Hield (IND)
Jusuf Nurkic – Anfernee Simons – #3
According to rumors around the league, the Pacers have been trying to offload Myles Turner and Buddy Hield for the past two years. With their current roster construction, the Pacers will not be competitive this upcoming year, so why not offload Hield and Turner, both on expiring contracts, to get back a potential All-Star in Simons and a solid center in Nurkic? One item to note is that the Pacers own three picks in the first round (7, 26, and 29). Could the Pacers swap picks with the Blazers to jump up and grab Henderson, Miller, or Thompson? Omitting this, the trade does make the Blazers better. Myles Turner has been slightly better than Nurkic (hovering around the top 10 for center PER, while Nurk is around 15th) and adds a perimeter shooter in Buddy Hield. Most importantly, it gives them roster flexibility, with Hield’s contract up next year and Turner’s the following year.
I’m hesitant to get on the wave of “let’s trade the third pick,” but a couple of instant-impact players are seemingly available. Out of the three that I’ve laid out, the Pacers one is the most likely to happen. The Pacer’s roster construction is rough, and they already have picks in the draft. You never want to go through a rebuild half-heartedly. Otherwise, you end up in the NBA purgatory of 41-41 seasons, losing in the first round every year. The Blazers can make a splash in the West if they acquire Turner and Hield. Couple that with a veteran buyout buy, and you can be looking at a team that’s in the top three in the West.