As the James Harden and Ben Simmons drama ended at the trade deadline, the NBA world did not have to wait long for the newest drama to begin. The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of a serious situation with their star, Zion Williamson. The All-Star forward is yet to play for the Pelicans this season and he was recently called out by his former teammate, JJ Redick. He was called a detached teammate because he did not reach out right away to CJ McCollum, and while he has done so afterward, the storm is still brewing. It might end up with a trade away from New Orleans and one of the teams that should be interested is the Portland Trail Blazers. Here are two reasons Blazers must trade for Zion Williamson this offseason.
Blazers Zion Williamson Trade Breakdown
Using the Damian Lillard championship window
It is incredible, in this day and age, to see a player so fiercely loyal. Damian Lillard has committed to the Blazers even through the worst of times and this will be the second rebuild of the squad around the All-Star guard. The first was when LaMarcus Aldridge left for the San Antonio Spurs in 2015. After seven years, the Blazers are once again rebuilding, as they traded away Norman Powell and CJ McCollum in the same trade period. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the situation is very different now, especially due to the age of Dame.
When Aldridge left in 2015, Lillard was 24 and he had a mate in CJ McCollum who was 23 and on the rise. Now, Lillard is 31 and with significant injuries behind him, the window for him to get a championship as the cornerstone of the franchise is shrinking. If, however, Zion Williamson is made available, the Blazers might be able to finally bring a title to Portland, with Lillard there playing one of the two main roles. These two should play well together and there are multiple reasons why.
Firstly, any All-Star guard is going to have a field day any time they step on the court with Williamson. Lillard, with his limitless range from three-point land, could play the pick and roll with Williamson in a variety of ways where the defense really would not be able to react. If they switch, Lillard can break the ankles of any defender who is not as quick as he is. If they decide to double-team, Williamson is a triple-threat playing 4v3, as he can shoot, drive, or make a great pass. If they go under the screen, Lillard will punish them from distance. In theory, this pairing would be entirely unstoppable and the Blazers might be back on the winning horse soon enough.
Secondly, they would have significant support. The Blazers might have traded away some pieces, but they still have players that have tons of potential. Of course, some of them would likely be a part of the trade for Williamson, but whoever they keep could be of great help. Jusuf Nurkic can be the defensive anchor behind Williamson. Anfernee Simons is a terrific young gun who can be even better in the future. Guys like Josh Hart and Nassir Little can also be of great help. Even if they lose two out of the four mentioned guys, free agency will be able to help them find more help for the duo. Speaking of that…
Financial outlook of the Blazers
Right now, the Blazers are committed to spending just $93 million next season, against a $121 million projected salary cap. They have reached this situation by trading away the contracts of McCollum and Powell, which somewhat crippled the financial situation of the squad. Even the $93 million number is misleading since the Blazers can simply cut Eric Bledsoe, who only has $3.9 million guaranteed on his contract. Additionally, by picking up Zion Williamson, they would pick up his $13 million deal for the 2022-23 season, as his presumed extension would kick in from the 2023-24 season.
That means that the Blazers would likely have money to get one more marquee player in free agency, re-sign Nurkic to an extension, keep Damian Lillard, and still sign an extension for Williamson for maximum money. It would be difficult to get out of this predicament in the future, since they would have three guys with maximum salaries on their roster, together with the like $15-20 million for Nurkic, but it would be worth it for a title. While criticized by some, their moves at and before the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline put the Blazers in an incredible financial position.
Of course, this is all based on the Pelicans making Zion Williamson available for trade. However, we have seen players force their way out of their franchises in recent memory. The Pelicans themselves experienced that with Anthony Davis a few years back, and the Sixers experienced that with Ben Simmons this summer. So, it would not be out of the ordinary for the Pelicans to make Williamson available, and should they do it, for the sake of Damian Lillard’s legacy and the future of the franchise, the Portland Trail Blazers need to be making the first call to the Pelicans front office.