One of the NBA's biggest open secrets is the Portland Trail Blazers want another star to pair with Damian Lillard. And according to sources, Pacific Northwest native Zach LaVine isn't the only big fish general manager Joe Cronin could try to lure to Portland before next season.
The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported on Monday that LaVine and Bradley Beal are “potential targets” for the Blazers, alluding to the latter's experience with Lillard last summer on Team USA as justification for his prospective move to Portland. That kinship forged with USA Basketball had previously sparked rumors of the Blazers' interest in LaVine, who's an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Don't get too excited, Rip City. It's always crucial to consider the two-way context of offseason rumors, and like LaVine, most signs point to Beal—who has a player option on his existing contract for 2022-23—re-upping with his incumbent team.
Though Beal opted against signing an extension with the Washington Wizards during the regular season, that decision was more about maximizing his future earnings than an indication of his desire to leave the nation's capitol. Beal is eligible for a five-year, $245 million max contract if he opts out of his current deal, and admitted in March it's “fair” to assume he's re-signing with Washington.
The most recent intel on LaVine, remember, suggests he'll be back in Chicago after dipping his feet into free agency for the first time.
Even if either high-scoring star wanted to team with Lillard in Portland, signing them outright would force the Blazers to part ways with Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic to free up necessary space below the salary cap. Then there's this team's history of committing so much financial ballast to defense-averse guards.
Do Cronin and company really want to go back down that path after finally trading C.J. McCollum and with Anfernee Simons set for a massive payday in restricted free agency?
— ClutchPoints NBA (@ClutchPointsNBA) May 11, 2022
At forward is where Portland really needs to upgrade, and The Ringer offered up two players who could potentially fill that need for the Blazers: Miles Bridges of the Charlotte Hornets and John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks.
There's been some prior smoke about Portland's interest in Bridges, no surprise given he's one of the few game-changing wings to hit free agency come July. But like Simons, he's a restricted free agent, meaning Charlotte will have the option to match any offer sheet he signs with a competing team.
Why would the Hornets, always vying for the playoffs under Michael Jordan, let an improving young wing who's a perfect fit alongside franchise player LaMelo Ball walk for nothing? Going after Bridges with a sign-and-trade featuring Simons at least somewhat balances that losing talent equation, but it's not like the defense-challenged Hornets need another average-sized guard to pair with Ball.
Bridges also seems happy with the prospect of continuing his career in Charlotte.
Collins is by far the most realistic acquisition for Portland mentioned by The Ringer. The relationship between he and Hawks officials has been strained since contract negotiations last summer, which ultimately ended with Collins re-upping for $125 million over five years.
Shine of Atlanta's shocking run to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals wore off this season, though, and there have been persistent rumors in recent years of Collins' displeasure playing alongside a ball-dominant playmaker like Trae Young. Lacking both the rim-protecting instincts and seamless switch-ability needed to play center full-time, Collins is a tough defensive fit next to Young, too.
Could the No. 7 pick and Eric Bledsoe's contract be enough for the Hawks to move Collins and further commit to DeAndre Hunter and Jalen Johnson at forward? Maybe. Don't be surprised if Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk asks for an additional sweetener in that scenario, like Keon Johnson or Greg Brown III.
Bottom line: The Ringer's reporting about Portland's hopeful path forward is based on speculation from league personnel.
The Blazers are no doubt engaged in trade calls with teams across the NBA, but there's no concrete reporting about them having actually discussed deals for Beal, Bridges or Collins with opposing front offices. Murmurs of their mutual interest with LaVine are pretty flimsy, too.
Portland will undoubtedly make multiple major moves this summer, all with the goal of getting back toward the top of the West next season with Lillard leading the way. At least until draft night and the start of free agency, though, file away rumors of the Blazers targeting specific stars with a hefty grain of salt.