By: Kenny Doyle
Deciphering the reports that come out during the NBA offseason can be a tricky task. Team sources are prone to holding bits of information back just as much as the insiders themselves. Teams go often unnamed in trade rumors to halt the public speculation accompanied with having your team be linked to trade talks. Adrian Wojnarowski reported in his story on Tuesday that the Celtics and Pacers were close to a deal on draft night for All-Star forward Paul George until “a third-team scenario late in the evening fell through that stalled talks”. The Portland Trail Blazers would be an ideal candidate to be that 3rd team seeing as they had 3 picks in the first round of the draft until they made a move to trade up to #10 with picks #15 and #20, that being the move that could have stalled the talks if Indiana was looking to get one of those picks in the deal.
This Portland Trail Blazers had an extremely frustrating 2016-17 season. After finishing as a top 5 seed in the loaded west in the season after LaMarcus Aldridge left for free agency, Portland had to fight tooth and nail just to barely squeak into the playoffs as an 8 seed and get swept by the juggernaut Warriors. It was not the season they expected to have after signing the likes of Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe to massive above market contracts. Portland was hoping to take the next step and be mentioned amongst the top tier teams in the league, but that never came to fruition.
Their struggles laid heavily on the shoulders of their star backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Many question whether the 2 even made sense on the same team due to how similar their games are. Both are incredible isolation scorers and shooters, but neither can defend that well at all. Though that didn’t stop them from winning 50 games the year prior, losing is often accompanied by scrutiny.
Earlier this week, Bleacher Report floated the idea of the Trail Blazers trading CJ McCollum to Boston for a package including Avery Bradley. While that doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Celtics, it makes sense as a story if the writer was told by a source that McCollum had been discussed in a deal involving the Celtics, and the source didn’t specify that it was a 3-team deal. That’s just speculation, but the idea of Portland trading CJ is one that Portland clearly has on their mind.
Though Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder have been 2 of the main names rumored to be involved in a trade with the Pacers, it has never made sense for Indiana to trade for either of the two . Avery is an unrestricted free agent after next season and while Crowder is signed for a few more seasons, they are players more suited to be playing for a contending team. The two make far more sense for Portland. If Portland truly believes that they need a defender next to Damian Lillard on the wing to guard opposing point guards, then there may be no better fit than Avery Bradley. Avery has been doing just that with Boston for years, and though there is a significant drop off at the offensive end from McCollum to Bradley, his defense arguably fully makes up for it. On top of that, the small forward position was a disaster for the Blazers this year, and Jae has solidified himself as a starter in the NBA and would be a clear upgrade starting over Evan Turner, the player that backed him up in Boston.
Indiana would be the ones to get CJ McCollum back in this deal, a offensive stud who they can still build around at 25, and would likely be the best single asset they could hope to get back for Paul George. That on top of the miscellaneous non-Brooklyn picks the Celtics can offer would verify Wojnarowski’s claim that “Indiana believes Boston can offer the best possible package”.
Since Portland has already dealt it’s picks, another potential reason that talks have stalled with the deal could be because Indiana is looking for Boston to replace those picks lost on draft night with their own unprotected picks in 2018 and 2020. However, with George and Isaiah Thomas only signed for 1 year, there is no guarantee for Boston that they will still have a great team in 2020, which is why they might want to wait until they have signed either Hayward or Griffin to increase the chance that both George and Thomas stay and that the pick they’re giving up will not be of any significant value.
Wojnarowski however also said in his story that “the Pacers may unwilling to wait until the start of July free agency on Boston’s timetable”. Which has lead many to ask why? One reason why could be Tyler Zeller’s role in the trade as a salary filler. Tyler Zeller’s non-guaranteed contract becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived by the July 2nd deadline. Waiting on this trade could cost the Pacers and extra 8 million dollars.
The trade would look something like this:
Indiana receives: CJ McCollum, Marcus Smart, Tyler Zeller, 2019 lottery protected Clippers picks, 2019 top 8 protected Grizzlies pick, 2018 unprotected Celtics pick, and 2020 unprotected Celtics pick
Portland receives: Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Terry Rozier, and Jordan Mickey
Boston receives: Paul George
This would give Boston the room it needs to sign George to a possible extension as well as allowing them to keep their best draft pick assets. Indiana would likely waive Tyler Zeller after the trade since his contract is non-guaranteed. For Portland, this deal allows them to fill their roster with solid players for their starting lineup and their bench on team friendly deals for at least 1 season. They are already pressing against the luxury tax, and with CJ’s max deal set to kick in next season, their owner, Paul Allen, may not be happy about going into the luxury tax on a team that just barely made the postseason. If this is the deal that Woj is hinting at, it’s a rare home run for all 3 teams involved.
Photo: (The Cauldron)