Portland Trail Blazers: Making a case for Paul George

Feb 28, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) drives to the basket against Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Portland defeated Indiana 111-102. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers v. Indiana Pacers (Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Trail Blazers should try to make a run at Paul George, and here’s how they can do it.

Damian Lillard wants to play with Paul George, which means the Portland Trail Blazers are absolutely obligated to try to make that happen.

It’s important to mention that this entire hypothetical is based on the possibility of Paul George opting out of his contract with the Indiana Pacers after the 2017-18 season. Were George to inform the Pacers of his intention to leave Indiana, it would be in the Pacers’ best interest to trade him away for some value rather than let him walk for nothing.

It’s tough to project whether pairing Lillard and George would thrust Portland into contender status — a tier which the majority of basketball pundits hold for just the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers — but one can never be too sure how the season is going to unfold.

One minute you’re up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, then the next…you know the rest.

But how do we even know Lillard wants to play with PG-13? How do the Blazers go about formulating a trade for George with the Indiana Pacers? How would George fit in Portland?

Well let’s take this one question at a time.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers, Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Retweets don’t equate to endorsements (but sometimes, they do)

Last Thursday morning, Lillard started his day on social media by going through his Twitter mentions and retweeting Portland native Alex Tam:

Now normally, I would err on the side of caution and advise everyone to not read too much into a single retweet. Cardinal rule: when you assume, you make an (ass) out of yo(u) and (me).

However, in this particular case, I’d say it’s UNQUESTIONABLY clear that the franchise point man would love for the Blazers front office to bring in another big piece to add to the puzzle.

Lillard isn’t careless on social media. Every reply, quote, tweet or retweet is done with some measure of purpose. It’s clear he’s in agreement with Alex Tam — Paul George should come West and rep the PDX.

But how could the Blazers make that happen? Let’s dive in.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers, Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers: You must give in order to receive

Following the announcement of George’s intention to leave the Pacers, the Blazers would have to put forward an attractive trade offer. In this particular situation, the Blazers should only consider two players untouchable:

Damian Lillard, and…Jusuf Nurkic. Some of you may be surprised. Most of you are not.

The foundation of this article is built on pairing Lillard with Paul George, not C.J. McCollum. While it’d be sentimentally great if the Blazers could acquire George without breaking up their core backcourt, McCollum would be the most attractive bargaining chip available.

And let’s face it — the Blazers won’t make it to the next level with a starting backcourt that can’t play perimeter defense.

According to NBA.com, the Blazers ranked 25th in opponent points scored in the regular season, allowing 108.5 points per game. While their overall team defense was middle-of-the-pack at best, part of the reason why the Blazers’ defense suffers is because they ranked 27th in opponent three-point percentage, allowing teams to shoot 37.0 percent from behind the arc.

Taking a closer look at opponents’ three-point percentage: opponents shot 37.8 percent from three with McCollum on the floor. When McCollum was off the floor, opponents were held to 35.2 percent from three.

Paul George, on the other hand, held opponents to 35.7 percent from three this past season.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers, Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a closer look at the Blazers’ financial situation

So let’s say the Pacers grow worried by all the rumors of George wanting to opt out, therefore causing them to want to trade George sooner rather than later. Not only would a draft-day trade ease the pressure early, but they’d give themselves some flexibility in terms of planning their long-term future (tanking, free agents, who to build around, etc.)

Barring the unlikely signing of an elite free agent, trading away Paul George would result in the Pacers immediately shifting the direction of their franchise, forcing them to build around center Myles Turner and, in this case, McCollum.

And when a small market team like the Pacers finds themselves in the rebuilding phase, nothing is more important than acquiring draft picks. It just so happens that the Blazers have three first round picks this year (15, 20, 26), as well as ALL of their future draft picks.

Per The Vertical, the 15th pick has a cap hold of $2.36 million, the 20th pick has a cap hold of $1.86 million, and the 26th pick has a cap hold of $1.46 million. Due to their financial situation, the Blazers aren’t even in a position to use all three this year, so let’s say both the 15th pick and the 20th pick are on the table.

Furthermore, McCollum’s contract jumps from $3.21 million to $23.96 million starting next season. Paul George’s 2017-18 cap hit is worth $19.51 million. Trading both players straight up is not an option.

So altogether, the core of Portland’s package would be a rising star guard in McCollum, as well as the 15th and 20th pick, all of which comes out to the grand total of roughly $28.18 million. This leaves the Pacers short $9 million.

Now if this were 2K, the best case scenario is a prospect like Justin Jackson — whom Draft Express currently lists as the 14th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — falls to 15, at which point the Blazers could offer the Pacers both him and the 20th pick. The Pacers trade away their franchise piece, but get a versatile, lottery-level wingman.

If I’m Portland, I push for Al Jefferson‘s $9.77 million to make up the $9 million deficit. Adding Jefferson ends up solving the Blazers’ problem of finding a viable backup to Nurkic, plus they end up not taking a huge financial burden as Jefferson’s $10 million salary in 2018-19 is non-guaranteed.

Then with the 26th pick, Portland can take a forward like Tyler Lydon out of Syracuse, whose small forward/power forward duality adds versatility, small-ball capability, sharpshooting, and much-needed frontcourt depth.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers, Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Explaining how he fits with the Blazers

The fairytale ending to this story is Paul George ends up filling McCollum’s role at shooting guard, adding a proven two-way player on the perimeter to couple with Lillard’s playmaking. George, a capable creator, replaces McCollum as the third hydra head. Pretty simple.

Nurkic continues as center with Jefferson as his main backup. Maurice Harkless continues to grow at small forward, giving the Blazers another solid defender on the wing, and Ed Davis finds a way to stay healthy and productive.

Evan TurnerMeyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Shabazz Napier all have a solid year off the bench, and Lydon — or whomever Portland’s rookie may be — exceeds expectations.

The Blazers also drop Festus Ezeli and Tim Quarterman, subsequently using the team’s $5.2 million tax mid-level exception to add a free agent of value. Options include George Hill, Jeff Teague, Patty Mills, Shaun Livingston, Brandon Jennings, Langston Galloway, or Darren Collison.

With this roster, the Portland Trail Blazers go straight from being the eighth seed to the upper echelon of the NBA. The threat of the Lakers in free agency looms large, but would that roster be good enough to convince PG-13 to stick around past his 2018 free agency?

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