Damian Lillard has spent almost his entire career as the better half of one of basketball's most dynamic yet smallest backcourts. After finally trading C.J. McCollum at the trade deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers are nevertheless poised to keep Lillard in those confines for the foreseeable future by signing Anfernee Simons to a massive, multi-year contract come July.
A team like Portland, lacking a deep stable of team-building assets and the glitz and glamor of bigger markets, doesn't have the luxury of letting home-grown young talent walk away in restricted free agency. The Blazers are essentially obligated to pay Simons what he deserves this summer, irrespective of his too-familiar fit with Lillard.
At least Lillard knows what types of players could help he and Simons vault Portland back toward the top of the Western Conference as the front office embarks on another pivotal, team-changing summer, though.
Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report recently reported on Dunc'd On that Lillard wants to play with rumored Blazers offseason targets Deandre Ayton, OG Anunoby or John Collins. Chatter leading up to February's trade deadline that still persists indicates Lillard likes the idea of playing with Jerami Grant.
Reports emerged last August after his stint with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics that Lillard was invigorated by the prospect of teaming with a dynamic, athletic big man like Bam Adebayo. Before Portland swapped Gary Trent Jr. for Norman Powell at the 2021 trade deadline in a vexing bid for more length and defense on the wing, he was supposedly onboard with the Blazers acquiring Aaron Gordon.
Lillard has made clear since flirting with a trade demand last summer that the Blazers' status quo wasn't good enough. His new pairing with Simons isn't exactly a deviation from the norm. Lillard has definitely realized the player archetype Portland needs to reach heights of contention going forward he never did with McCollum, though: A rangy, versatile, imposing defender and finisher at forward or in the middle.
Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal, potentially available stars the Blazers have been linked to in recent days, don't fit that bill. Miles Bridges does, but it would be shocking if the Charlotte Hornets decided against retaining him in restricted free agency.
It also bears reminding that the most likely offseason scenario still involves free agent Jusuf Nurkic coming back to Rip City, even if Portland makes good on rumors of trading the No. 7 overall pick for an impact player—the worst-kept team-building secret in the league.
With those realities and his obvious personal preferences in mind, here are the Blazers' five best possible additions for Lillard, ranked.
The 5 best Blazers offseason targets for Damian Lillard
5. Jerami Grant
Portland has been linked to Grant since January, as the team's glaring hole on the wing and his suboptimal fit in the Detroit Pistons' timeline toward contention around Cade Cunningham make their prospective marriage obvious. Don't forget that Grant won Olympic gold with Lillard in Japan, too.
But for all his bonafides as a versatile three-level scorer and impactful one-on-one defender of basketball's best wings, there are still limits to what Grant provides on both sides of the ball.
He's more of a streaky long-range shooter than marksman, and came back down to earth from an efficiency standpoint after an eyebrow-raising start to his tenure as a primary scoring option with Detroit last season.
Grant, 28 years old and no stranger to injuries, isn’t quite the quick-twitch athlete he once was, either, a comparative lack of pop that has hindered him of late as a finisher and help defender. Grant also hasn’t been as stout on the ball defensively in Detroit as he was with the Denver Nuggets, when he fared admirably matched up with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the Orlando bubble.
There’s been more smoke surrounding Grant and the Blazers than any other player on this list. He’s surely the most likely target to actually end up in Rip City, and would certainly make Chauncey Billups’ team better on both sides of the floor. But his influence doesn’t ripple across the lineup like some of Portland’s prospective additions, and he’s not as reliably productive in the box score as others.
4. John Collins
The question isn’t so much whether Collins is available, but the price it would take to pry him from the Atlanta—and if it would be worth Portland paying given the hardened edges of his game on offense and defense. Lacking the length and shot-blocking instincts to be an anchor rim-protector and the foot speed needed to capably switch onto smalls, Collins finds himself somewhat stuck between frontcourt positions in the modern game.
He’s worked himself into becoming a threatening three-point shooter and remains a devastating lob threat lurking in the dunker spot and rolling to the rim, but hasn’t proven himself entirely comfortable as a cog in the offensive machine rather than a driving force behind it. Indeed, much of the evidently unavoidable tensions within Atlanta’s locker room stem from Collins’ displeasure with the heliocentric style of Trae Young.
Would he be keen on playing third wheel to ball-dominant guards like Lillard and Simons? Among the reasons Portland could get away with not worrying either way is that Collins’ five-year, $125 million extension doesn’t even kick in until next season.
Collins, as much credit as he deserves for embracing dirty work in last year's playoffs, doesn’t address the Blazers’ defensive concerns like every other player listed here, and could even add new ones if he doesn’t buy into his role on the other end. His varied inside-outside skill set is very rare, though, and could push Portland’s offense toward the very top of the league.
3. Deandre Ayton
Go ahead and chastise Ayton for his role in the Phoenix Suns’ stunning second-round collapse. His general malaise against the Dallas Mavericks and quietly fraught relationship with Monty Williams significantly contributed to Phoenix’s historic Game 7 letdown and everything that preceded it.
But it was barely a year ago that Ayton intimidated a hobbled James and Davis in the first round of the playoffs then handled Nikola Jokic as well as anyone could’ve expected a round later. Still just 23 with incredible touch around the basket and a burgeoning perimeter shooting stroke, Ayton has the makings of a borderline All-Star center for years to come—with an even higher ceiling.
His elite finishing, underutilized self-creation ability and comfort playing multiple coverages defensively mark a blend of attributes Nurkic can’t match, let alone any other five-man Lillard had played with in Rip City.
Still, the Blazers are all in on winning at the highest level as soon as possible, and exchanging most of their team-building ballast for a young player still coming to grips with professionalism of the NBA is a risk some other players on this list don’t provide.
2. OG Anunoby
There isn't a non-star player type in the league more valuable than Anunoby's, and there are multiple factors separating him from other wings cut from that “three-and-D” cloth.
At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, broad shoulders, a big chest and thick lower half, Anunoby is one of the only defenders in the NBA truly capable of guarding all five players on the floor at a high level. He may not hound Steph Curry as well as Marcus Smart or body Joel Embiid like Marc Gasol, but any coach would feel comfortable switching Anunoby onto those offensive luminaries, let alone make him the primary stopper of an apex wing like Luka Doncic or LeBron.
It's still unclear how willing the Raptors are to move Anunoby. They'd incur the void of his awesome defensive versatility immediately after trading him, with Masai Ujiri quickly feeling the pressure to find a half-suitable replacement. If Anunoby is soon playing for a different team for Toronto, though, his reported displeasure with a supporting offensive role will no doubt be the biggest reason why.
What' less certain is whether Anunoby, whose career-high 20.4% usage last season was accompanied by six-point dip in true shooting percentage to a slightly below-average 54.9, is actually worthy of being a bigger part of an elite offense.
He's absent the explosive first step needed to consistently get a shoulder on defenders, a deficiency that looms especially large because it's coupled with a notable lack of off-dribble wiggle. Anunoby's shown an ability to punish smaller defenders on the block after switches, but it's not like he has the advanced footwork and shot-making repertoire to function as a hub from the post. His passing instincts are averaged at best.
Don't let perfect become the enemy of good, though. Jayson Tatum and Kawhi Leonard aren't coming to Portland. When it comes to offense-defense wings with game-changing versatility and at least some degree of untapped upside, the Blazers couldn't do better than Anunoby.
1. Rudy Gobert
Disclaimer: Gobert is the only player featured here who hasn't actually been linked to Portland by reporting, bu the Utah Jazz are taking calls on the three-time Defensive Player of the Year after another playoff flameout and Quin Snyder's resignation.
There just isn't a player who could realistically be moved this summer that Lillard and the Blazers could benefit from more than Gobert.
Portland will be fighting uphill defensively every time Lillard and Simons are on the floor together. While a position-less stopper like Anunoby might make life easier on the Blazers' star guards than Gobert, always taking the opposition's toughest perimeter player, a more winning team defense would no doubt involve Lillard, Simons and their teammates pressuring the perimeter, intentionally funneling everything to the greatest rim-protector of his generation.
Utah finished ninth in defense during the regular season, and its 104.5 defensive rating with Gobert on the floor was stingier than the Boston Celtics' league-leading mark, per NBA.com/stats. Why wouldn't surrounding Gobert with Lillard, Simons, Josh Hart and Nassir Little—plus a couple other veteran additions—spark the same equation that putting Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O'Neal and Bojan Bogdanovic around him did?
Gobert is far more influential offensively than his rudimentary skill set suggests. An elite screener and one of the best dive men in basketball, the pressure he puts on defenses while rolling to the rim not only leads to hordes of dunks and layups from Gobert, but leaves additional space for his teammates to operate as the defense scrambles. Gobert has fared better in recent years passing out of short rolls, too.
The playoff concerns are real, but rooted most in worries about his underwhelming supporting defensive cast than Gobert individually. His impact on that end end will always be muted if his teammates can't contain the ball when the competition rises. But just getting back to the postseason has to be Portland's initial goal, and there's no available player who would help Lillard achieve it more than Gobert.