The Portland Trail Blazers are at a crossroads. Right now, they are 14-13 and headed for another 0.500 season. ESPN’s FPI playoff odds currently has them projected to finish 41-41 and get the eighth seed in the west. That would lead to a quick first-round exit to either the Houston Rockets or the Golden State Warriors. That is precisely what is happening this year. The year before was 44 wins. Portland has been stuck around 0.500 for three years now. That is not where you want to be in today’s NBA.
So what does Portland do? Do they blow it up? Stay the course? No, they make a win-now move. That’s what makes Portland one of the most exciting teams to watch at the trade deadline. Now, they have to decide who stays and who goes. Damian Lillard is the star of the franchise. The clear best player on the team and Portland recently signed him to a max deal. He is not going anywhere.
He and McCollum form a lethal backcourt. However, they are not enough. Portland is 22nd in offense and heavily relies on both of these guards to make tough shots on a consistent basis. No one has stepped up. Moe Harkless has regressed at small forward and was recently benched. Pat Connaughton is a good shooter, but he plays no defense and is undersized at the three. Evan Turner can defend, but he can’t shoot. They all present their problems.
Up front, Jusef Nurkic has regressed and is now out with an injury. Portland likely won’t give up on him too soon though, even though they would like to get rookie Zach Collins more minutes. Myles Leonard is probably the one who gets moved. That’s the problem: Portland doesn’t have a lot of players with high trade value right now. Harkless and Connaughton are limited, and there is no way they are moving Turner’s contract. Maybe they could move Al Fariq-Aminu to a contender; Ed Davis has little value as a reserve center. Neither of those guys though is getting Portland anything significant.
The real move to make is trading C.J. McCollum. He has tons of value. McCollum is a legit 20-point scorer, a solid passer, and an above-average defender. Portland could get a lot for him. I know it seems crazy to trade a player who this season is averaging 21.3 points per game on 44 percent shooting from deep. Here is the thing: McCollum and Lillard will always be good together, but not great. A fresh start for McCollum would be good for him and be the best chance Portland has at getting young assets and draft picks. They don’t have a second round pick this year. Zach Collins, Noah Vonleh, and Shabazz Napier are young players with some promise, but none of them will likely be stars.
So, if Portland does decide to move McCollum, where should they move him too? They need a team that gives Portland young assets and preferably a first-round draft pick. Teams will be interested, but not all teams have the resources to make it happen. Here are two trades that the Blazers should look into.
The Orlando Magic get C.J. McCollum.
The Portland Trail Blazers get Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, and a first-round draft pick.
This trade works for both teams. Orlando finally gets a star guard. Portland receives a solid wing in Fournier, a good back up point guard in Payton, Hezonja is a former lottery pick, who still has some potential, plus they get a first-round pick. The Trail Blazers remain competitive, get more depth, become more versatile and get an extra pick. This trade is an excellent way to make a big move without tanking. Here is another trade that does that.
Dallas Mavericks get C.J. McCollum.
The Portland Trail Blazers get a first-round pick, Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, and Dwight Powell.
This trade sees Portland get a young shooting guard in Curry who can be McCollum’s replacement. Then they get Barea who is an excellent backup combo guard, and Powell is a nice young big with some upside. Again they also get a first-round pick, and since Dallas is really bad, its a great first round pick to have.
These trades add depth and pieces that fit with Lillard and can grow with him. That extra first-round pick is an opportunity for the Blazers to draft a franchise-changing star. Both of these trade opportunities give Portland the chance to aim for something bigger.
If either of these trades is available at the deadline for the Blazers, they should do it. Their other options are limited. McCollum, besides Lillard, brings back the most value. Any other smaller move the Blazers make may help or hurt a little, but it will still keep the Blazers in 40-45 win land. A perpetual first round exit with no way of getting better. These kind of decisions are tough for a franchise to make, but sometimes are necessary. Trading C.J. McCollum is the best way for the Portland Trail Blazers to get a fresh start and aim for something more significant than a first-round exit.