The Portland Trail Blazers are facing a crucial off-season during the summer of 2022. Anyone who’s read this site for the past few weeks understands that well. The Blazers have been linked with multiple trade and free agent possibilities, including Deandre Ayton, Zach LaVine, John Collins, Jerami Grant, and OG Anunoby…just to name the highly-recognizable ones. Levels of credibility will vary depending on specifics, but Portland is up to something. You don’t need smoke rising from the fire to tell you that. Making a bold move right now is a systemic necessity.
The Blazers own the 7th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The appropriate draftees at that position have all been mentioned in Portland’s vicinity, but the lottery pick is also the main lever facilitating most of the dramatic deals proposed for the club. It’s a safe bet they’ll try to move the pick.
While people debate center versus power forward, sign-and-trade versus straight deal, they’re mostly missing a critical point.
Let’s presume the Blazers can manufacture a trade with the 7th selection, and that it’s a good one. Pick almost any of the names above. Bingo. It’s done.
Outside of maybe Ayton, none of the trade possibilities listed so far lift the Blazers into title contention. Nor are they likely to get a second lottery pick next year to bolster the lineup, at least if things go right.
That’s the little secret of the summer. Portland’s first move, even if it’s good, isn’t the key. What they do with their second move will determine their ultimate success, likely the difference between a resurrected franchise and an expensive also-ran.
Making a decisive “other” move won’t be easy. Of the candidates named so far, only Grant might be attainable without the 7th pick (which presumably would have been used in Portland’s first transaction). Even though they’re more amenable to trading players now that Joe Cronin is at the helm, Portland still suffers from a min-maxed cap structure. Most of their incumbent players make small salaries. Many aren’t worth much on the market. Of the big-talent, bigger-dollar players, few are expendable. The Blazers can’t trade Jusuf Nurkic without first re-signing him and then replacing him at center in the deal. By all signs, Damian Lillard is still untouchable. Future first-rounders are important insurance in case the whole experiment goes south.
Factor in those restrictions and the cupboard gets thin quickly. Portland will be forced to cobble together something out of, if not exactly nothing, at least comparatively little.
The task isn’t impossible. If the Blazers were to get Anunoby or Grant, they’d have four players—the new forward, Lillard, Josh Hart, and a no-doubt re-signed Anfernee Simons—for three starting positions. They also have promising wing Nassir Little returning from injury. Moving Hart or signing-and-trading Simons could get them another player in the comparatively-sparse frontcourt.
The Blazers could also use the pick on a solid rookie, then make another move to generate the requisite splash. Other combinations can be manufactured. The particular flavor isn’t as critical as the assertion: this is almost certainly a two-move summer. This is true even if the first move is an extra-base hit.
In short, if you want to judge the success of Portland’s off-season, don’t just ask what they did, ask what they did after the thing that they did. That’s how you’re going to know.