The Portland Trail Blazers are currently 22-18 and are 5th in the Western Conference standings, which is very good when you look at their roster. While Portland boasts potentially the best backcourt in the league in in Damian Lillard (24 points, 6 assists per game) and CJ McCollum (21 points, 4 assists per game), the rest of their roster is very suspect. Besides center Jusuf Nurkic, (averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 block per game) and forward Al-Farouq Aminu (9 points, 7 rebounds per game) the rest of the Blazers role players and have proved to be very inconsistent. Shabazz Napier has been a pleasant surprise while filling in for Lillard during his early season injuries, but their wing players have been below-average. Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, and Pat Connaughton have all experienced shooting woes, and their inconsistency puts more pressure on Lillard and McCollum to do the bulk of the work. Big men Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh have been alright, but neither are even able to average over 20 minutes per game. Portland is good, but in this league, being stuck in between contending and rebuilding is a bad situation to be in. With that being said, it looks like the Blazers will need to make a big trade before the deadline to bring another talented player to Portland. Here are some potential trades that would transform the Blazers from a good to great team, and have them competing with the best of the best in the Western Conference:
Trade Target: DeMarcus Cousins
Potential Trade: Cousins, Ian Clark to Blazers / Jusuf Nurkic, Maurice Harkless, Jake Layman, 2018 & 2019 1st-round draft pick to Pelicans
I know all the reports coming out of New Orleans say that the Pelicans are not shopping Cousins and plan to sign him to a long-term deal, but both NOLA and Cousins have a lot to gain from this trade. New Orleans is currently clinging to the 8th spot in the Western Conference, and the Cousins/Anthony Davis duo has not proven to bring great success. With Cousins only being signed through the end of this season, the Pelicans may want to think about going in a new direction. Nurkic would be the bruiser in the paint and allow Davis to maximize his offensive talents, while acquiring a talented project in Maurice Harkless. With two first-round draft picks next year, the Pelicans would have a good start to rebuilding around Davis.
As for the Blazers, it should be a no-brainer as long as they believe they can sign Cousins to a long-term deal. Cousins immediately comes in and is the best player on the team, and would be the perfect complement to Lillard and McCollum. Parting with Nurkic and the first-round picks would be tough, but it would be worth it as they begin to contend with the best in the West for years to come.
Trade Target: Nikola Mirotic
Potential Trade: Mirotic to Blazers / Evan Turner, 2018 1st-round draft pick to Bulls
While Nikola Mirotic is no Cousins, it is another mutually beneficial trade for each team. Mirotic was unhappy with the direction the team was going in Chicago, and after a pre-season scuffle with teammate Bobby Portis that left him in the hospital, he made it clear he wanted out. At this point, the Bulls should be willing to settle for essentially just a first-round draft pick for Mirotic, which will help the rebuild immediately. While Turner’s contract is unpleasant, he is a veteran guy that will be able to fill in the starting lineup for the Bulls, and may even be a good fit with Zach LaVine as he comes back from injury.
Mirotic would be the perfect fit in Portland’s starting lineup. His incredible 3-point shooting and range opens the floor up for Lillard and McCollum and will allow Aminu to cut to the basket more. Just Mirotic’s presence will help the entire Blazers offense, and even allow McCollum to help out the second unit since Mirotic will be able to help carry the load on offense.
Trade Target: Tobias Harris
Potential Trade: Harris to Blazers / Evan Turner, 2018 1st-round, 2019 2nd-round draft pick to Pistons
The Pistons started off hot this year, but were unable to keep it up and are barely above.500 and could even fall out of the playoff picture. Knowing how good the East already is with the Cavs, Celtics, and Raptors at the top of the conference, the Pistons should be trying to sell while they can. Harris is averaging a career-high 18 points per game and shooting a deadly 43.8 percent from behind the 3-point line. If they ship out Harris now, they will be able to get a 1st and 2nd round draft pick, which will be better for Detroit in the long run.
Similar to Mirotic, Harris brings another scoring threat and fills out the starting lineup for the Blazers. Harris is a more dynamic scorer and will open up the floor for the guards. Either way, Harris is an addition that would make this Portland squad among the best in the league.