The Portland Trail Blazers have already been linked to every major name who could be changing teams this summer.
Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal could be the star Portland so desperately wants to pair with Damian Lillard. Jerami Grant and OG Anunoby are the versatile three-and-D forwards who'd give the Blazers some much-needed point-of-attack defense. Deandre Ayton might represent the ideal bridge between maximizing Lillard's prime and charting a long-term path of relevance. John Collins and Miles Bridges are rumored Portland targets, too.
Each of those players would make a major difference for the Blazers as they look to get back to the playoffs after the league's longest active postseason streak came to an intentional end in 2021-22. But some are clearly better fits than others, addressing Portland's biggest weaknesses and fortifying strengths instead of compounding personnel and stylistic redundancies.
Even a true game-changer like Anunoby or Ayton, though, wouldn't give the Blazers a better chance of vaulting toward contention in the Western Conference than the one available star who's been conspicuously absent from reports and rumors surrounding Portland.
Here are three reason why Rudy Gobert is the ideal offseason addition for Lillard and the Blazers.
3 reasons Rudy Gobert is perfect star target for Damian Lillard, Blazers
Defense, defense, defense
Don't let another disappointing playoff flameout from the Utah Jazz distract from what's been obvious about Gobert for the majority of his career. He's the best rim-protector of his generation, a defensive system unto himself who essentially guarantees elite performance on that side of the ball whenever he's on the floor.
The Jazz, committing even further to a roster full of offense-first players in 2021-22, still finished ninth in defensive rating. They surrendered just 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Gobert in the game, per NBA.com/stats, better than the Boston Celtics' historic, league-leading defensive rating from January 1st to the end of the regular season.
If Utah can manage an elite defense around Gobert with Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O'Neale and Bojan Bogdanovic, why couldn't Portland do the same by putting Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart and Nassir Little—plus a couple other veteran additions—next to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year?
Offense should come easy for the Blazers in 2022-23 with Lillard, finally fully healthy, poised for one of the best seasons of his career and Simons continuing to cement himself as one of the league's most flammable, dynamic young perimeter playmakers. Defense is by far the toughest question Chauncey Billups' team needs to answer, and funneling everything to an awaiting Gobert in the paint would go a long way toward ensuring Portland can string together stops on a nightly basis.
A new type of halfcourt spacing
Gobert is the increasingly rare star center who isn't a threatening three-point shooter, his range most accurately extending no further than eight feet from the rim. He's not a post-up threat against other traditional bigs, and all too often failed in the last couple years to punish smaller defenders after switches as Utah's offense bogged down in the postseason.
Still, the glaring skill deficiencies of their most expensive player didn't keep the Jazz from putting together the best offense in basketball last season. Why? The ripples Gobert's ever looming threat as a pick-and-roll dive man create across the floor.
An elite screener with great speed and a canny understanding of angles, Gobert shot an unbelievable 71.4% on rolls to the rim last season, per NBA.com/stats, drawing shooting fouls on 23.6% of his used possessions—both top-three marks league-wide. His 306 dunks led the league again, but don't accurately convey sweeping influence of the pressure Gobert puts on the rim.
The Jazz took 46.8% of their shots from deep last season, the highest share in basketball. Conventional wisdom suggests that rate would bump up even higher with a non-shooter like Gobert on the floor, but ignores the constant attention the league's most prolific interior finisher always draws from defenses.
Indeed, a whopping 49.6% of Utah's field goal attempts were triples with Gobert in the lineup last season, per NBA.com/stats, highest among team regulars. That number dipped all the way to 43.7% when he was on the bench, easily lowest on the roster. Just imagine how many more open triples Lillard and Simons could generate for themselves and their teammates with a rim-runner like Gobert occupying help defenders, goading rotations that otherwise wouldn't come.
Don't fall victim to the lazy narrative. Gobert isn't only a two-way player, but has been one of the driving forces behind a consistently elite offense for years.
Winning right now
It bears stressing the most likely scenario still involves Portland re-signing Jusuf Nurkic, using the No. 7 pick and other team-building assets to trade for an impact forward. The Blazers' interest in Gobert is entirely theoretical until reports or sudden action proves otherwise.
But what separates him from other prospective offseason additions isn't just the layered effects he provides on defense and offense. No potentially available player Portland's been associated with fits the timeline of Lillard's remaining prime better than Gobert. He'd immediately help the Blazers level back up in the Western Conference next season, and at 29, will still have plenty left in the tank to ensure they remain competitive as Lillard ages into his mid-thirties.
The allure of Anunoby and Ayton is at least partially based on upside. As long as Lillard is fully re-committed and vice versa, though, Portland doesn't have the luxury of patience or playing for the future. The present is what matters most, and there isn't another possible target who would help the Blazers maximize it more than Gobert.