The post-Damian Lillard era officially tips off for the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday when Scoot Henderson and the new roster face New Zealand in Game 1 of their 2023 NBA preseason schedule.
How this team moves forward without its franchise face is the storyline of the year. It’s what defines the entire 2023-24 campaign and beyond, starting with Scoot’s ROY bid, extending to Deandre Ayton’s resurgence and Anfernee Simons’ potential superstar leap.
One theme that falls under the same umbrella but can’t fall under the radar is the presence, impact, and, ultimately, the uncertainty surrounding backup point guard Malcolm Brogdon.
After the Trail Blazers flipped Jrue Holiday to the Boston Celtics, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggested Brogdon might stick around Stumptown for a cup of coffee, not much else. Then, after Day 2 of training camp in Santa Barbara, Brogdon countered Woj, speaking his own truth.
“They want me here, I want to be here. There’s a lot of misleading information out there about they need to trade me or I want to go… I’m embracing being here.” — Malcolm Brogdon
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) October 4, 2023
At this point, it’s fair to wonder how long Brogdon will be a Trail Blazer during the midst of Portland’s identity shift. He’s not the first player to get into a “he said versus Woj said” situation, but it’s Portland’s front office that will determine if he’s helping the team win—or if he’s maybe helping win too much in Year 1 of a youthful rebuild.
At 30 years old, Brogdon’s value to Portland in 2023-24 could be both as a floor general and an adult in the room for the league’s second-youngest roster. But his true value could—and will—also be tested come February when contenders are calling Joe Cronin ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
This is Part 1 of a full Portland Trail Blazers Player Preview series publishing on Oregon Sports News during October. Check back later this week for Part 2, the next player preview from OSN’s Jared Wright.
Malcolm Brogdon 2022-23 Review
Team: Boston Celtics
Position: PG (52%), SG (47%)
Size: 6’5”, 229 lbs
PPG: 14.9, RPG: 4.2, APG: 3.7, FG%: 48.4, 3PT%: 44.4
Accolades/Notables: Sixth Man of the Year
Brogdon’s 2022 move from the Indiana Pacers to Boston came with an extra transition for the veteran guard. After being a permanent starter since midway through his sophomore season (2017-18), Brogdon was named a reserve for his first and only campaign with the Celtics. And how he responded to the challenge: He played 67 games, embracing the role, earning 2023 NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
“This is such an honor,” Brogdon said via NBA.com in response to winning the award. “It has definitely been a transition for me, coming from Indiana to Boston. My last two seasons, they weren’t super successful, so for me, that was another gut check for me in understanding that maybe I’m not a No. 1 guy, but I can be a great No. 2, 3, or 4.”
The Portland Fit
The catch, of course, for Brogdon now is that he’s no longer on a contender. It’s one thing to accept that reality when competing for a title; it’s another to take a discounted role during the second half of your career and while on a rebuilding squad with eyes for the lottery.
Bigger picture, backup point guard has been a precarious position in Portland for years. And now, the Trail Blazers finally have one.
Ahead of Training Camp, the Blazers did re-sign 6’4” Skylar Mays, who played 100 percent of his minutes at point guard last season for Portland. But those minutes totaled out at 189 for the year, all during the season’s home stretch—aka, when Lillard was out with a “calf injury,” and the organization quietly celebrated every loss as a win toward tomorrow.
At this point, though, the question might not be, “Who else is there?” but rather, “Does Brogdon make Portland better than it wants to be?” Because the truth is, he’s going to be a huge upgrade to the bench, and if the NBA Draft Lottery remains the goal, the answer to the question, “Is he too good for this team?” will likely be yes.
Brogdon will be a super sixth man for the Blazers. There is no arguing that. He’ll be unlike any first man off the bench they’ve had in the backcourt for some time, and he will be one of the best reserves across the league to start the year, regardless of position.
At the same time, the harsher reality should prove that Brogdon’s trade value—not his impact on the court for Portland—is what’s better for the long-term outcome of the franchise.
I don’t expect Brogdon on the roster at year’s end. That’s not to say Cronin will trade him any time soon. Training camp is complete, preseason is underway, and, at this point, shaking up the roster again this quickly would be tough for morale, even on a team without immediate expectations.
As we get closer to February’s trade deadline, that’s where the honeymoon phase will end. In all likelihood, the Blazers will be tracking nicely toward the lottery come that time. But even if they’re modestly, even feistily competitive, that’s where they’ll have a business decision to make, opting to send Brogdon to a contender, swapping in long-term assets at the expense of wins this season.
Jerami Grant will be part of this discussion, too, by the way. He’s in the same spot. Don’t forget he signed his five-year, $150 million deal right before Lillard’s trade request became real. Grant no longer fits this team’s expected timeline—so like with Brogdon, his value could present itself on the trade market greater than it does on the court this year.
But for now, expect Brogdon, in particular, to be a calming presence on the Blazers when momentum isn’t in their favor. He’ll be there to help the league’s second-youngest team breathe, and he’ll likely be someone who deserves a load of credit when times are going right.
When it’s all said and done and the year comes to a close, don’t expect Brogdon to be in Portland. In Joe Cronin’s eyes, Brogdon’s eventual return trade package and the assets he brings will be what finally puts a bow on the Lillard trade—not Brogdon’s contributions in 2024.
Brogdon should quickly become a fan favorite in Portland. Rip City seems to appreciate what players like him bring at any stage of the franchise. But the city also shouldn’t get too attached.
As Woj teased, it might be a cup of coffee and a quick but sincere farewell for Brogdon in Stumptown.
Either way, don’t let his contributions go unnoticed in Portland this season.
Malcolm Brogdon will leave an imprint on this team, one way or the other.