NBA

3 Hot Options for Trail Blazers at Small Forward

ADVERTISEMENT

The Portland Trail Blazers had an interesting week. After securing the services of Jerami Grant for a pittance from the Detroit Pistons, general manager Joe Cronin picked up an unknown relative of 19 from Shaedon Sharpe 24 hours later.

They didn’t trade for Toronto Raptors wing OG Anunoby, which was rumored to be the answer to all of Portland’s questions. Toronto boss Masai Ujiri either asked for too much or chose not to commit.

ADVERTISEMENT

Uh, well.

Sharpe is a tantalizing prospect who could have the ability to make a difference down the line, but we don’t have much more to do due to a lack of valuable pre-NBA experience. As a result, the Blazers are now stretched between two deadlines. One with Damian Lillard and Grant and the other with Anfernee Simons – who can sit in both – and his potential future running mate Sharpe.

As of today, the Blazers have 13 players under contract next season; Lillard, Grant, Sharpe, Josh Hart, Nassir Little, Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Trendon Watford, Didi Louzada, Greg Brown III, Jabari Walker and the two-way deal Brandon Williams. They’re also likely to bring Simons and Jusuf Nurkic back via free agency, bringing the total to 15. Theoretically, enough bodies to take this team into next season.

But this list is still incomplete and unbalanced, with the smaller forward and center positions being by far the slimmest. I’m not too worried about the center. As mentioned, the Blazers look set to bring Nurkic back and capable backup bigs seem relatively easy to come by.

As for the small forward, Nassir Little is actually the only real three on this list. Yes, Hart, Grant, Winslow and Louzada can play all three but Little is the only guy built to play the position full time.

This situation is accentuated by the fact that the wings, especially the larger wings, are arguably the most important position in the modern game. Just look at the recent NBA Finals, aside from the monster that is Steph Curry, the other three most important players were Andrew Wiggins, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Yes, Grant is a bigger wing, but he’s probably not nimble enough to consistently run around the above players unassisted.

So what are the Blazers doing?

The three avenues each team has to improve their respective rosters are draft, trade, and free agency. The draft is done, leaving Cronin trade and free agency to make more moves.

Here are three names, two via trade and one potentially via free agency, that could be options.

Matisse Thybulle

An hour before the start of Thursday’s draft, my compatriot Matisse Thybulle was mentioned as a potential target for the Blazers.

Yes, he is 6’5. Yes, his shooting is mediocre. But, man, the guy could be one of the best young defenders in the league, winning two All Defensive Second Team awards at the age of 25. It also has a 7-foot wingspan and natural defensive instincts, allowing it to comfortably guard positions. one to four.

The Australian national team representative spent much of his time with the Philadelphia 76ers as a small forward and would instantly make up for the defensive shortcomings of Lillard and Simons. Thybulle is an elite defender from the attacking point and would make a pretty devastating defensive attacking pair alongside Grant.

The logistics of bringing Thybulle to Portland would be quite simple. He’s still on his rookie contract, which means the Blazers could absorb him directly into the trade exception created in February with the Los Angeles Clippers. Obviously, you have to wonder what 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is up to elsewhere, but you imagine Thybulle might be a realistic take.

Gordon Hayward

Don’t worry, I too cringed thinking about this one, but hear me out. His contract is as garish as it gets and injuries have seriously diminished the 32-year-old’s ability to contribute.

But with only two years left on his contract, Hayward could be a good filler, allowing Sharpe to find his feet in this league. And if that doesn’t work out, it could be moved as an expiration next summer.

Given the complexities associated with negotiating Bledsoe’s contract, it might be difficult to fit Hayward’s $30 million contract into a deal, but the Blazers would likely send at least what they took over in the deal. Robert Covington-Norman Powell. That is, Bledsoe, Winslow, Johnson and the Offset Project.

From the Charlotte Hornets’ perspective, they may also be able to offer another upside given the size of Hayward’s deal with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, reporting that the Carolina franchise was willing to tie up a top pick. turn to the veteran before the draft.

Last season, Hayward played a grand total of 49 games, plagued by ankle, back and hamstring injuries. But nothing like the horrific broken foot he suffered in his first game for the Boston Celtics in 2017.

In those 49 games, Hayward started in 48, with 15.9 points on 39% three-point shooting, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1 steal. If he’s capable of a good body, Hayward offers the shooting, facilitation, minimal defense and at 6’8 has the size to rival the three while coaching Sharpe in his league debut.

Nicholas Batum

Someone I mentioned earlier this offseason as both sentimental and practical for the Blazers. Batum’s impressive playing performance has proven that he is always capable of competing on both sides of the ball. Let’s not forget that his close friend Damian Lillard tried to bring Batum back to Portland 12 months ago.

The 33-year-old recently opted out of his $3.3m contract with Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, reporting yesterday that the Frenchman could pursue the mid-tier non-taxpayer exception at around $10m. Unfortunately, the Blazers might not be eligible for the full mid tier depending on what they do over the next few weeks, but it could be an interesting move.

We still don’t know what he thinks of the Clippers, a franchise with which he was able to reinvigorate his career after years in the desert with the Hornets. But perhaps his relationship with Lillard could be the difference.

Personally, I’d like to see Batum return to the Blazers colors, maybe not play starting minutes but, like Hayward, provide that bridge to Portland’s next generation.

Conclusion

The Blazers locked down a high wing with the seventh pick on Thursday, but they still have a hole in the small forward position. Unless Cronin plans to start Little at three, the Blazers have their work cut out this summer as, unfortunately, OG Anunoby is still playing for Toronto.

On draft night, Cronin said the franchise will continue to work hard to improve through trades and free agency, so let’s see if and how his plans pan out.

ADVERTISEMENT