The Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of a retooling around Damian Lillard. The Blazers shipped away CJ McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington last season, and they just made a move to acquire Jerami Grant this offseason. Joe Cronin and Co. then selected Shaedon Sharpe with the No. 7 pick instead of trading the selection, and now it's time to look to 2022 NBA free agency.
Portland has two key free agents in Anfernee Simons (restricted) and Jusuf Nurkic (unrestricted). The current expectation is they will be back on new deals. While those two players will be addressed here, there are some other targets the Blazers should look at as well in 2022 NBA free agency. As of now, Portland has the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception and a couple of trade exceptions available, though we'll see how things play out with Simons, Nurkic and Eric Bledsoe, who has a large partially guaranteed deal that becomes fully guaranteed at over $19 million on July 10.
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Blazers 2022 NBA Free Agency Targets
This one is a bit of nostalgia, but it also makes sense. Matthews made a name for himself in the NBA in Rip City, playing five seasons with the franchise early in his career.
While he's obviously not what he once was, Matthews is still a ferocious perimeter defender and stellar 3-point shooter. The Milwaukee Bucks would surely love to have him back after he played such a key role in the playoffs (almost 29 minutes per game), but perhaps he looks elsewhere.
With the Blazers looking to improve their defensive presence around Lillard, Matthews would be a valuable veteran addition.
3. Isaiah Hartenstein
Isaiah Hartenstein enjoyed something of a breakout campaign for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2021-22. The Clippers would like to keep the young center, but a numbers game might result in him moving on. The current expectation is John Wall will sign with LA for the taxpayer mid-level exception of just over $6 million, leaving the Clippers limited money to offer Hartenstein, who deserves a nice little raise.
Perhaps Hartenstein loves LA enough to take a cheap deal before cashing in down the road, but one has to think he'll explore his options. Even with Nurkic set to return, Portland should look into adding Hartenstein as a backup option. The 7-footer brings a lot to the table as a backup after averaging 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks in just 17.9 minutes per game in 2021-22.
Nurkic consistently misses games, and Hartenstein would fill in nicely as a starter given he shares some similar skills, especially when it comes to playmaking from the center spot.
2. Jusuf Nurkic
While Nurkic has been injury-prone, he's still one of the more skilled centers in the NBA and a player the Blazers should want to re-sign. While they could try to make a big play for somebody like Deandre Ayton, it seems Portland is fine just running it back with Nurk.
Given Nurkic's productivity as he enters his prime, this makes perfect sense, even with the injury history. The Blazers just need to be smart about the deal they give him. He's finishing up a four-year, $48 million deal and will be looking for a raise.
1. Anfernee Simons
Simons' rise helped make Portland more comfortable trading away McCollum. The young guard broke out in 2021-22 with averages of 17.3 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 40.5% from 3-point range on nearly eight attempts per game.
A Lillard-Simons backcourt pairing shares similar concerns to Lillard-McCollum because they're both shorter guards who aren't exactly defensive stoppers, but that's exactly why the Blazers made the move for Grant and will try to beef up their roster with defensive help.
Michael Scotto of HoopHype reports an expectation of a four-year, $80 million deal for Simons, with the potential for incentives to make that number even higher. That seems like a fair deal for a 23-year-old scorer with his upside.