NBA trades are complicated, with agents, salary cap restrictions and myriad other factors making it far easier for a deal to fall apart than come together. And that’s just with two teams in the mix. Add a third or a fourth team into the fray, as I have below, and the chances of a deal working out for all sides are slim. But we’re not letting reality stop us from dreaming big. Here are proposals for two massive trades that would benefit all seven teams at Thursday’s trade deadline.
TRADE NO. 1
TRAIL BLAZERS RECEIVE: Joel Embiid (from 76ers), Cory Joseph (from Kings), Bojan Bogdanovic (from Kings)
SIXERS RECEIVE: CJ McCollum (from Trail Blazers), Richaun Holmes (from Kings), Portland 2020, 2022, 2024 first-round picks
KINGS RECEIVE: Hassan Whiteside (from Trail Blazers), Furkan Korkmaz (from 76ers), Philadelphia 2020, 2021 second-round picks
WHY TRAIL BLAZERS WOULD DO IT
Since the start of the 2017 season, Portland is 94-58 (.618 winning percentage) in games center Josef Nurkic has played. Without him, the Blazers are 31-31. The dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the Blazers, but never overlook Nurkic’s value.
Now it seems like a big gamble for Portland to give up three first-round picks, along with Lillard’s backcourt running mate. After all, Nurkic, who’s recovering from a serious left leg fracture and recently strained his calf, will come back at some point. So the safe play for the Blazers seems to be remaining patient while Nurkic works himself back into the lineup and hope that the big man once again makes them legit contenders in a more open Western Conference.
But the calendar has already rolled into February; only 2 1/2 months remains in the regular season. Any delay in Nurkic’s return means he’s missing valuable games for a Portland team 1 1/2 games back in the three-way battle for the final playoff spot in the West. Risking a postseason appearance on Nurkic’s health smack dab in Lillard’s prime seems like a bad gamble. It should embolden the team to go all-in on its superstar point guard’s best years.
Enter Embiid, Joseph and Bogdanovic. Embiid immediately gives Lillard a star frontcourt player to pair with. His inside-out dominance would be a huge boost come playoff time. When Lillard is keyed on, Embiid could dominate through the post. And the thought of Lillard-Embiid pick-and-rolls is tantalizing.
On top of that, Lillard’s immense talent at creating shots for himself and others makes McCollum’s presence as backcourt scorer almost redundant. McCollum also doesn’t do a great job propping up a thin/weak Portland bench units — something that is key given the rather limited supporting cast the Blazers are working with this season. In 2018-19, Portland was six points per 48 minutes worse when McCollum played sans Lillard. This season, it’s a massive 13-point swing. Due to Embiid’s immense gravity offensively and his defensive presence, it’s a good bet he would boost Portland’s bench units far better than McCollum.
Joseph and Bogdanovic would be necessary in the deal as well. Bogdanovic would step right into McCollum’s vacant spot while Joseph — who has struggled this season — would hopefully find his form and stabilize a shaky guard rotation. Bogdanovic wouldn’t be nearly the scorer/shooter McCollum is, but his playmaking is much better. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that due to Bogdanovic’s passing chops, he might actually make a better pairing with Lillard than McCollum does.
Parting with three first-round picks is a huge commitment — it would be challenging for the Blazers to build depth around their new star duo. But Embiid complements Lillard in much better ways than McCollum does. He also eliminates the waiting game on Nurkic.
With Embiid in the fold, the possibility of Nurkic failing to return to his normal self becomes a non-issue. And should Nurkic come back just as strong, the team would have a two-headed monster at a valuable position. Plus, Embiid is hardly an 82-game ironman. Given Nurkic is under contract for two more seasons after this one (his 2022 salary is non-guaranteed), it would give the team incredible depth and invaluable cover at center.
Joseph’s deal is a little onerous for a backup point guard, but his salary is non-guaranteed in 2022 as well. Should his performance not pick up, Portland would have plenty of options to move on from him in the short term. Bogdanovic would enter free agency this summer, but in a huge boost for Portland, it’d be as a restricted free agent. Should he pair well with Lillard down the stretch, it should be rather easy for the Blazers to retain his services.