PORTLAND, Ore. — The NBA offseason is underway and the Trail Blazers have been busy.
Portland jumped on the chance to draft North Carolina small forward Nassir Little when he dropped to them with the 25th pick in the NBA draft last week.
Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey followed that draft selection with a trade earlier this week that sent Evan Turner to the Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore.
On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we give our early reviews of the selection of Little and the trade for Bazemore, and look ahead to what the Blazers might do with free agency and trades over the next month.
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Listen to the most recent episode of KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers podcast!
1. What are your thoughts on the Blazers’ first-round draft selection, North Carolina forward Nassir Little, at No. 25?
Jared: What seemed like a humdrum draft for Portland ended up pretty exciting. Going into the night, I thought Portland was most likely to trade its pick for a couple second-round picks. Boring. Instead, the Blazers were the beneficiary of one of this year's most talented prospects inexplicably slipping about 15 spots down the draft board. Most Blazers fans probably weren’t familiar with Nassir Little before Portland selected him, but they’ve surely heard his story now. Only player other than LeBron James to be named MVP of both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. Second-ranked player in his high school class. Comparisons to Andre Iguodala and Jaylen Brown. An up-and-down freshman season at North Carolina. Projected lottery pick. And now, surprisingly, a Blazer. Little has all the tools to develop into a top-notch small forward for the Blazers down the road. We’ll see if he pans out, but grabbing Little with a late first-round pick is incredible value for Portland.
Nate: I'm enthusiastic about the pick. If you're a Blazers fan, I don’t know why you wouldn't be. The team got lottery talent at the end of the first round. That’s the best a fan can ask for. Sure, Little has parts of his game that need development, including perimeter shooting. But at the end of the first round, teams aren’t going to get polished, impact-now players. Teams are looking for players who, after a few years in their system, can become contributors. They have that in Little. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, he has a great build for an NBA prospect, and his raw talent is undeniable. That’s why he was ranked as the second- or third-best high school player in the country before going to North Carolina. Considering the names we were talking about in last week’s podcast (Dylan Windler, KZ Okpala, etc.), Blazers fans should be thrilled with the pick.
Orlando: Sometimes you need a little luck. This pick was a no-brainer for the Blazers to take the best player available. They get a Top-10 talent with the 25th pick, that happens to fit some of their needs. It’s a low-risk, high-reward situation for the Blazers. I’m not sure the draft could have gone much better for them and I don’t think the team is going to take much heat for taking Nassir Little with the 25th pick if it doesn’t work out. Little is athletic, explosive and can get it done in transition. He’s got to work on becoming a better shooter, specifically from long range, but he’s got the tools to make an impact with the Blazers in the future. I was impressed by the way he handled draft night and his introductory press conference at the Blazers' practice facility. He didn’t come across as a 19-year-old fresh out of college, one year removed from high school graduation. He could have been bitter about sliding to 25th in the draft, instead he responded by saying, "I'll just have to shock everybody again like I've done every other moment of my life." He’s coming to Portland with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Now the Blazers have an opportunity to help Little meet those expectations he didn’t reach when he was at North Carolina.
2. What are your thoughts on the Blazers’ trade of Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore?
Nate: Another positive move for the Blazers. It’s no secret that Turner's skillset never meshed in the Blazers' system. Portland needs 3-point shooters around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and Turner could not fill that need. Bazemore has shown he can. He’s a career 35% 3-point shooter. He also can play the 2 or the 3, which gives the Blazers some versatility, and writers who covered the Hawks were complimentary of his defense and locker room presence. All of that seems to fit Portland’s culture. Beyond the trade itself, it shows the Blazers are likely going to lose Rodney Hood in free agency. General manager Neil Olshey warned about that possibility in the press conference introducing Bazemore. So, from a team-building perspective, I think this trade may make the Blazers more willing to use the $5 million taxpayer midlevel exception on a different position, perhaps a backup center or guard.
Orlando: For us media folks, Evan Turner was a soundbite machine and was always willing to give us a couple minutes of his time. Turner was also a Rip City favorite on your social media timeline and more importantly, a leader in the locker room that everyone on the team respected. It can be tough to replace a guy like that, but the Blazers were able to find a player that fits the Blazers' style of play. The trade makes a lot of sense. Kent Bazemore is more of a threat from long range who will help with spacing on the floor. He’s also got the reputation of being a good defender who wants to do the "dirty work." General Manager Neil Olshey also mentioned this going beyond just a trade. There’s a realistic possibility they won’t be able to resign Rodney Hood to a new contract, so they need a guy with a similar skillset. Insert Kent Bazemore.
Jared: It's a solid move. Watching his introductory press conference, he seems like he’ll be a great fit in Portland. He’s personable, funny, and engaging. Like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, he also plays with a chip on his shoulder. He came from a mid-major college, went undrafted, and worked his way into the league, establishing himself as a respected 3-and-D wing. On the court, he’s a good fit for the Blazers. He’s a good defensive player who has the length (7-foot wingspan) and athleticism to guard point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, and even some small-ball fours. He’s a good, high-volume outside shooter (about 35% on more than five 3-point attempts per game over his career). In Atlanta, he was a leader in the locker room and in the community. Getting Bazemore for Turner without having to attach another asset is a good move that will benefit the Blazers this season.
3. What do you anticipate for the Blazers over the next month in free agency and potential trades?
Orlando: We don’t often get two press conferences in one week with the Blazers, so that made things a little more interesting before free agency begins. While the Blazers do have plenty of expiring contracts and ways to make moves, the bottom line is they don’t have the cap room. Olshey made sure to temper expectations on Wednesday saying, "there are not going to be fireworks on July 1 with a $5 million tax midlevel competing against teams with two max slots." It’s going to be relatively quiet while other teams make a big splash over the next week or two in free agency. Once the dust settles, the Blazers can try to do something. I won’t be surprised if their big move comes during the season as they approach the trade deadline.
Jared: It starts with Al-Farouq Aminu, and it’s hard to gauge how the Blazers view him. They say you can’t just lose a rotation player for nothing, but I thought the Blazers would keep Ed Davis around for the same reason. I can’t shake the feeling the Blazers will let Aminu walk. I think Enes Kanter, Rodney Hood, and Seth Curry will each be too expensive for the Blazers, who have a $5.7 million exception and minimum salary contracts to spend with. There’s a chance one of those players could see their market dry up and come back to Portland on a one-year deal, but I don’t think that’s likely. I think Portland will go bargain shopping, looking for outside shooting at guard and power forward, and try to sign a veteran center. Like Neil Olshey said on Wednesday, don’t expect fireworks in free agency. If the Blazers are going to make a big move, it will be via trade. Whether that big trade happens in the next month, or closer to the February 2020 trade deadline is the big question.
Nate: Given that the Blazers are so limited, I think Olshey will look for players who may be overlooked or are looking for a bounce-back season. That’s essentially what he did last offseason with the signings of Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas. There won’t be any splash moves, and what position he decides to use the $5 million midlevel exception on will be telling about how the organization feels about the internal development of certain players, specifically Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins. What happens to Al-Farouq Aminu will be the most interesting part of Blazers free agency to me. What is his value across the league and how much does Olshey value keeping him for one more season or long term? I think it’s the biggest wild card of Portland’s free agency. As far as trades go, I think Olshey will be active trying to find a star forward to put alongside Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, but I still don’t think that type of deal will be available to the Blazers this offseason. I think that’s more of a trade deadline move.
MEET THE 3-ON-3 BLAZERS TEAM
Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers and other topics for KGW.com. Jared has written about the Jazz and Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.