The NBA trade deadline is four days away. The Blazers find themselves in a tough spot. Currently in the 10th seed in the west, on the outside looking in, amidst a close playoff race, that they could easily make or miss. Rewind to the beginning of last summer. The Blazers were fresh off a stunning season in which they played with a surprising resilience and surpassed every expectation to make the second round of the playoffs. Things were finally looking up. The Blazers were looking to capture a top tier free agent to build on to their success and become a true contender. But, left and right all of the Blazers targets headed to other teams, leaving the them in free fall. Neil Olshey opted to jump to the next tier and snag Evan Turner before other teams could get to him, signing him for four years at $70 million, a steep contract to say the least. Olshey with little other options decided to retain the rest of the roster as not to lose assets, matching a four year $75 million contract for Allen Crabbe with the Nets, resigning Meyers Leonard to a 4 year $41 million contract, and Harkless to a similar one. The Blazers ballooned from the lowest team salary to the second highest.
Now halfway through the season with a 23-33 record, the Blazers season has been devastating, Paul Allen has a $119 million toy with no defense, and an offense that practically exists of only two players, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Neil Olshey has to decide what he wants to do with this team, between the trade deadline and the off season/draft. Sometimes, it is best to do some heavy lifting now, to make later easier. But, right now the value of our players is low, especially Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe with their inflated contracts, and it is not always best to sell low. So, maybe let the cake bake till the end of the season, hope players snap out of their funk, and sell high. But, at what point does the cake start burning? Either way, Olshey has to cut salaries and get the Blazers below the luxury tax line, all while delivering a team that can win. I don’t envy him.
Neil Olshey already jettisoned the expiring contract of Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick, not wanting to contend with a spate of other teams in the sweepstakes for his services this summer. Not wanting to lose him for nothing, knowing he couldn’t possibly match the high price tag that Plumlee will no doubt have attached to him. Armed with three first round picks and a still bloated team salary, Olshey still has lots of work to do, but will he do more now, or will he take the risk to wait till the draft where he has been the most successful to make moves.
There is a good chance we will see another move before Thursday’s deadline, but who will go and who will stay. Let’s take a look at the roster. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are untouchable and will remain in the teams long term plans. There is no doubt we will see them past the deadline.
Al Farouq Aminu: One of the Blazers best trade chips, a player who will bring a pedigree of defense to a contending team, who needs an extra guy for the final push. Look for Aminu to be traded to a playoff bound team with some injured players who need some extra help. He is good for a first rounder or role player.
Maurice Harkless: A sixth man with swiss army knife skills that can rebound, attack the rim, and hit three pointers. With his long term contract, though somewhat steep, teams will no doubt be asking about him. He may be moved if the Blazers can’t eject one of their other large contracts (Crabbe or Leonard) That said, Harkless will probably stay in red and black for the rest of this season anyway. He may remain in the Blazers future plans, as he is still young and provides an energy the Blazers sorely need.
Allen Crabbe: Crabbe has not lived up to his $75 million contract, and will be perhaps one of the hardest to move before the deadline. He has struggled this season and hasn’t been able to dig himself out of the hole he has dug for himself. He is a three and done guy who has Ill developed, and not proved to be worth the money. It has been rumored that other teams are asking about him, but what they are willing to give, so far at least, hasn’t been worth it in Olshey’s eyes to pull the trigger. If Olshey can move him and get fair value before the deadline, look for it to happen.
Meyers Leonard: Arguably the Blazer’s worst contract. After returning from shoulder surgery, the hope was he would finally develop and realize his potential, but he has gone backwards, and has had one of, if not his worst seasons as a Blazer. Five years removed from his drafting, he has proved if anything to be a bust. But, now the Blazers are stuck with his highly unattractive contract, and it doesn’t look like any other GM wants to touch it with a ten foot poll. That said, with luck someone bites and he is gone by Thursday. Then again, it may be, and I can’t believe I am saying this, the wiser decision to hold on to him and hope he turns it around the second half of the season, so we can trade him at a higher value this summer. Who knows playing next to Nurkic may be exactly what he needs to finally grow up. Either way, we might not have a choice in the matter.
Ed Davis: One of, if not the best value contracts the Blazer have. Though he has had a backwards season, teams will be asking for him. He is a serviceable big man, who can adapt to any team, and bring that dirty dirty energy a contending team needs to propel themselves deeper into the playoffs. Look for him to be on the next plane out, probably for a pick.
Festus Ezeli: The Blazers are looking to move Ezeli before the deadline or so it has been rumored. But, it might just be better to hold onto him until the end of the season. And, depending on his knees, and what the Blazers do this summer, keep him a second year if he will be able to play. Though knowing the knee woes of the ghost of Blazers past, it is probably best to wait till the offseason, pay him his million and let him go. As it is, since he is not a true expiring contract teams will be reluctant to take him unless, the Blazers take a salary back in return, which is not in the teams best interest.
Evan Tuner: Injured with a broken hand and out till the middle of March at the earliest, Turner is very unlikely to be traded. He will remain a Blazer for the rest of the season.
Noah Vonleh: Vonleh, an intriguing young prospect, has undoubtedly drawn the interests of some teams around the league. Though he has yet to develop as a player, his potential is still sky high. That said, the Blazers will keep him around a bit longer in hopes they can still get the better end of the Nic Batum trade with the Hornets.
Layman: Though he could be thrown in to finish a trade, the Blazers will most likely hold on to him. Still a mystery, Layman has potential, with his rookie contract the Blazers will take the risk.
Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier, Tim Quarterman: Any of these three players could be thrown in to complete a trade. They are all expendables, who will be gone at the end of the season, if not at the deadline.