The Portland Trail Blazers needed an absurd bubble performance from superstar Damian Lillard just to sneak into the postseason. Led by Dame Time, Portland nabbed the 8th seed in the West after going 6-2 in the seeding games and defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in. However, the No. 1-seeded Los Angeles Lakers proved to be too much, even for Lillard’s heroic efforts through the series.
Regardless, their 2019-20 season is a major step back coming from a team that made the Western Conference Finals just a year ago. With Lillard turning 30 and Portland’s limited championship window, the Blazers may look into changing the personnel surrounding their superstar point guard.
Here are three superstars the Blazers can trade for to pair with Damian Lillard.
3. Ben Simmons
Should the Sixers make Ben Simmons available, Portland should pounce on the former no. 1 overall pick immediately. The Blazers may need to create a package surrounding C.J. McCollum, young pieces such as Anfernee Simons or Gary Trent Jr., and picks to entice the Sixers enough to go part ways with their former 1st overall pick.
Philadelphia may talk themselves into doing this deal because of McCollum’s fit alongside Joel Embiid. McCollum, though he may not be an upgrade, would complement Embiid’s game better because of his ability to space the floor. Likewise, he gives the Sixers a capable shot-creator during late-game situations, something Simmons hasn’t been able to do because of his lack of shooting.
Meanwhile, Simmons would help address one of Portland’s most glaring weaknesses: their defense. Portland ranks 27th in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
The Australian guard is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. His size, length, and athleticism will certainly cover them in that department. He will also give the Blazers a defender capable of defending some of the best wings in the game.
Simmons also gives Portland another dynamic on offense. He also eases some of the ball-handling duties from Lillard and this gives the Blazers superstar a chance to play off the ball at times. The Blazers ranked in assists this 2019-20 season. Adding a willing passer and an elite playmaker like Simmons should help move the ball more in Portland’s offense.
2. Rudy Gobert
There is a growing belief that the Rudy Gobert-Donovan Mitchell pairing in Utah may soon come to a head after this season. Mitchell was reportedly frustrated with Gobert’s carelessness in handling the coronavirus situation before everything went down with the pandemic back in March. Of course, as everyone knows at this point, Gobert’s joking with the media eventually backfired as he became the first reported case in the entire league.
Aside from that, there have been talks about the friction between the two All-Stars’ chemistry even before the season’s suspension back in March. Their coronavirus spat may have just worsened their relationship. Thus, if Utah decides to split the two up, they may eventually part ways with the 28-year old Gobert and start building around the 23-year old Mitchell.
Thus, Portland should attempt to trade for Gobert. As mentioned earlier, the Blazers need a ton of help on defense. Adding a two-time Defensive Player of the Year should quickly address their glaring concerns on that side of the ball.
A defensive stop is only successful if they get the defensive rebound. While Portland is among the top shot-blocking teams in the league because of Hassan Whiteside’s presence inside, they still ranked dead last in the league in opposing second chance points, per NBA.com. Utah, meanwhile, is among the top teams in limiting second chances. Gobert’s ability to successfully end opposing possessions with sound defensive fundamentals should make the Blazers a better defensive team overall.
Perhaps the Blazers may begin with a package around Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins and see where negotiations go from there. If that’s not going to cut it, they may need to swallow the pill and center the deal around C.J. McCollum instead.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
Rumors have been brewing about a LaMarcus Aldridge reunion in Portland. The former Blazer has discussed a possible return to Rip City at some point in the future and that could happen as soon as next season. Lillard, likewise, has spoken about telling his former teammate to return.
Aldridge may already be past his prime, but he is still a capable scorer down on the block. Likewise, he has done a great job of adapting to the new NBA by extending his range beyond the arc. This season, the 35-year old shot 38.9 percent from three on decent volume (3.0 attempts per game).
The two played alongside each other from 2012 to 2015. Thus, there is already some familiarity between the two All-Stars.
Constructing a deal for the final year of Aldridge’s current deal, worth $24 million, may be more difficult to do. Assuming the Blazers don’t want to give up any of McCollum or Jusuf Nurkic, they will need to get creative to get to a number close to Aldridge’s salary in the 2020-21 season.
They may need to re-sign Hassan Whiteside and guarantee Trevor Ariza’s $12.8 million contract next season to make the numbers work. But it doesn’t seem to make sense for the Spurs to bring in someone like Whiteside unless they fully embrace the tank route to fast track their rebuild.
Of course, they may need to add one of their young players, such as an Anfernee Simons or a Nassir Little, and perhaps a pick or two as sweeteners, to entice the Spurs to do this deal.