How the Blazers can cover Damian Lillard with a second star
One more masterpiece of Damian Lillard. 60 stitches. Even stronger, 60 points on 21-of-29 shooting, including 9-of-14 on 3-pointers and 9-of-10 on free throws. One of the most impressive 60-point bursts in NBA history. Another display for a superstar striker who is almost unrivaled in his profession.
60 points, and it was enough for the Portland Trail Blazers to win over the Utah Jazz (134-124). Lillard is on a mission. He is averaging 39 points, 54% shooting, 42% rebounding, 4 rebounds and over 8 assists in eight games. The irony? The Oregon franchise won just half of those games. This exceptional series cries out for help to the leaders. He is determined to lead his team to the playoffs, determined to win. But he needs help.
It reiterates that management is aware of the situation and that the organization will do whatever it takes to offer the All-Star player a competitive workforce. So that would be the will of the front office: not to give up. Look at the leaderboard and don’t think about the draft. In other words, try to get stronger in the few days before the transfer window ends.
The Blazers could eventually increase the margin by adding backup players, who are logically cheaper. But this will not be enough. Even two good veterans who can provide 15-25 productive minutes cannot turn this team into one of the top five or six in the Western Conference. Portland starts pretty far away. Chauncey Billups’ players are twelfth with a negative record (23-25), three games out of sixth place. Barring a major turnaround, Damian Lillard and co will surely have to make it through the playoffs to qualify for the playoffs (knowing they aren’t currently in the top 10).
So, what does it mean to strengthen? If insiders place so much importance on leaders’ desire to truly surround the leader, it means that the latter will be willing to take risks. You are ready to make difficult choices. Disturbing ones. Which may anger some supporters. Ones that could pay off in a few years or sink the team into basketball nothingness. We are ready to sacrifice one or even both of the promising young talents of this team. Anfernee Simons and/or Shaedon Sharpe.
Some Portland fans are already hoping for a bright future with Simons, a 23-year-old scorer who is averaging nearly 22 points per game, and Sharpe, the seventh overall pick in the last draft, who has great athleticism and really exciting potential. This duo is expected to keep the Blazers in the top eight of the West for several years. But until when? Above all, this promise remains very, very vague. However, what is certain is that Damian Lillard is there (for now and obviously forever) and he is still one of the twelve best basketball players in the world.
Without a pool of options to move, re-moving just one of the two, or even both at the same time, should allow the franchise to craft a “game changer,” a package attractive enough to attract at least one. Another real player rated in the top 25 or 30 in the league in Oregon.
Fans especially appreciate Simons, but interestingly, the young defenseman has the worst differential among starters (-0.1 points per 100 possessions, so nothing shocking, staying neutral). Anyway, the only negative. Among players who spend more than 15 minutes on the court per game, Sharpe has the worst rating (-3.3). Both are good, and these statistics only tell a small part of the story. It remains to be remembered that they are not ready to contribute to a team that has won nearly 50 games a season, which is exactly what the Blazers desire with Dame.
If Simons can stay efficient and productive while playing with Lillard, it’s also worth noting that the duo has a +1.8 differential per 100 possessions. Nothing special. A Lillard-Hart backcourt brings +5.3 points, for example. Because it is ultimately more complementary. Still need to find a good trade for Sharpe and/or Simons. It would be a (serious) mistake to swing them for the first good player. You should aim for the heavy one.
Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)
Undoubtedly the best player to be available on the market in February. But it is expensive. The Raptors know the talent of Cameroonians better than anyone. He is an all-rounder who could be the second option of a team playing for a title. It takes a little bit to be a true superstar in this league, but Siakam is very good at everything, both offensively and defensively. He is a winger who can revolutionize the team. Especially next to Damian Lillard.
The Blazers really have no choice. Their 2023 draft pick will go to Chicago. Aside from the guards, it is possible that they return to the Bulls either this year, or in 2024, or in 2025, or in 2026, or in 2027 or 2028. In short, it blocks opportunities. The 2029 pick could be sent unprotected and Toronto could be interested because who knows where the Blazers will be by then? Lillard will be 38 years old.
Therefore, it should be focused on youth rather than exchange rounds. Of course, Simons, but also Canadian Sharp. Both need to be included for the Raptors to start thinking. Simmons AND Sharpe vs. Siakam may seem too expensive to some Portland fans… and expensive enough to others in Toronto. Like what.
Other players will need to be included to keep the salary balance. Or Yusuf Nurkic, for example, Thaddeus Young or Khem Birch, or Justice Winslow, or even directly Gary Payton II. Releasing Nurkic isn’t bad for the Blazers — he’s talented, but inconsistent and very limited in certain aspects of the game — but it would create a void in the paint. Even Pascal Siakam would be ideal at the five small ball position on a very offensive team.
Nurkic and Simons might be enough salary cap space, but will they be interested in those two players and Masai Ujiri? Everything will depend on the reality of the market. A deal with Hart, Nurkic and Sharpe — or Payton, Sharpe, Winslow and Nurkic — also works in theory, but not without arguably adding at least three draft rounds to it. So it looks really complicated.
Another player from Toronto, but cheaper because less talented than Siakam. The Blazers can offer Sharp and Josh Hart’s lucrative contract ($12 million through 2024). Except again, he would have made choices for the refourguer. One team would make three offers for the Raptors winger.
A more improbable path since the Miami Heat probably hasn’t left to start a rebuild. But it works. The pick against Jusuf Nurkic, Anfernee Simons and Jimmy Butler? The Floridians will lose immediately, but their window of opportunity is closed anyway. Simons will be decent in modeling based on the bonus of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herron. He would have a real second star next to Lillard.
Stronger than Simons, but not strong enough to really change the game in Portland. Chicago would probably jump at the chance. Portland is less so.
It’s likely that the Blazers won’t dare sign either of their two young talents and will instead wait until the summer to find an even more interesting player to partner with Lillard after another potential setback.