The Portland Trail Blazers’ primary goal in Friday’s shocking trade with the LA Clippers was saving money. They not only ducked below the luxury tax this season, making the franchise and billionaire owner Jody Allen subject to the most lucrative distribution of tax penalties in league history, but also shaved considerable money off their books long-term by moving Norman Powell.
Chauncey Billups admitted it on Friday night, before his woebegone team’s second loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder this week. Friday’s trade was about “flexibility,” in terms of both managing Portland’s potential tax bills going forward and better allocating its financial resources across the positional spectrum.
Make no mistake, though. Trading one 6’3” guard hardly means the Blazers are veering away from building around an undersized backcourt. In fact, interim general manager Joe Cronin even told Ben Golliver of The Washington Post that Friday’s deal was about prioritizing the continued growth of Anfernee Simons.
“A core piece, definitely,” Cronin said of Simons. “We wanted to create a runway here for him.”
Simons cemented himself as a building block in Rip City once Damian Lillard was sidelined after the New Year, averaging 23.1 points and 6.7 assists in January while shooting 42.7% from three on over 10 attempts per game. He’s due a massive raise in restricted free agency this summer, likely to sign a multi-year deal with an annual salary of roughly $20 million—another reason the Blazers decided to move on from Powell and are considering doing the same with C.J. McCollum, who’s owed about $69 million over the next two seasons.
Simons isn’t the only young player bound to benefit from Portland’s roster revamp around Lillard. The development of Nassir Little, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week, was also a factor in the Blazers’ decision to trade Powell and Covington.
“Before Ant even took off, we were already guard-heavy. We already had that issue, and then Ant’s explosion kind of validated it. Really, really happy for him,” Billups said. “But when you have a guy that can blow up like that—and even Nas, man, and even Nas. We can’t not talk about what he’s been able to do, too. He plays in some of those spots as well. So those young boys kind of blowin’ up, that changes for you sometimes.”
There’s still much to be decided about Portland’s path from here. No matter how many more moves the Blazers make before the February 10th trade deadline and during a crucial offseason, though, expect Simons and Little to become even more entrenched in Rip City.