PORTLAND, Ore. — Trail Blazers fans have been mostly positive about the Rodney Hood trade, but they're also hoping Portland makes at least one more deal before Thursday's deadline.
New Orleans Pelicans power forward Nikola Mirotic is on the block and many Blazers fans have expressed hope that he’ll be the next move for the Blazers.
Portland has expressed interest in Mirotic, according to multiple reports. On Wednesday afternoon, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that the Blazers are one of four teams — the Jazz, Nets and Spurs being the others — that have talked to the Pelicans about Mirotic.
This is the second year in a row Portland has shown interest in Mirotic leading up to the trade deadline. Last season, they didn’t trade for him, the Pelicans did, and Mirotic proceeded to torch the Blazers in a first-round playoff sweep.
During that four-game series, Mirotic averaged 18.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.8 steals, while shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from the 3-point line.
Last season, we talked about Mirotic during an episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast leading up to the deadline. I wrote of Mirotic at the time, “If you were to create the ideal power forward for a Terry Stotts’ team, Mirotic is pretty close to a perfect fit. He shoots the 3-point well (47 percent his season, 36 percent for his career), he’s got good size (6-10, 240 pounds) and he’s a solid defender (he’s had a positive real plus-minus on defense in each of his three seasons and the Bulls have been about two points stingier on defense with him on the court during his career). His age – he turns 27 in February – fits the Blazers’ core. And he’s on a reasonable contract ($12.5 million) with team control through the end of the season.”
Much of that still holds true today, save a couple key differences. Mirotic is now in the final year of his deal and could leave in free agency at the end of the season. And Mirotic has battled injuries this season (right calf strain, right ankle sprain), causing him to miss 22 games. In fact, Mirotic has missed the past six games and 20 of the past 30. Both of those things have lessened his value.
But when healthy this season, Mirotic has played some of the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging career highs in points (16.7), rebounds (8.3) and minutes (28.9), while shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from the 3-point line.
Listen to the most recent edition of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast:
What Mirotic brings, more than anything else, is accurate shooting from just about everywhere. Mirotic shoots 37 percent on above-the-break 3-pointers and 43 percent from the left corner. He’s a little less accurate from the right corner at 33 percent this season, but that’s an anomaly; he’s shot 43 percent from that spot for his career. He also shoots 61 percent in the paint and 63 percent in the restricted area.
The Blazers’ biggest weakness the past few seasons has been a lack of outside shooting, shot creation or playmaking in the starting lineup outside of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In the playoffs, opponents have exploited that weakness by blitzing and trapping Lillard and McCollum, daring any of the other starters to beat them. It’s been a winning strategy for Blazers opponents so far.
This season, Jusuf Nurkic has emerged as a reliable third scorer and facilitator, averaging career highs in points (15.0) and assists (3.3). But to stop opposing defenses from loading up on Lillard, McCollum, and now Nurkic, the Blazers still need forwards who are scoring threats so that defenders won’t venture away from them.
The Hood acquisition helps. He’s a career 37 percent 3-point shooter. Mirotic would help even more.
The asking price from the Pelicans is a first-round pick, according to O'Connor.
What hasn't been reported is whether the Pelicans are willing to take back salary beyond this season or if they’re looking for only expiring contracts to pair with the first-round pick.
The Blazers have reportedly made Maurice Harkless and their first-round pick available. If the Pelicans value Harkless and aren’t opposed to taking on his $11.5 million contract for next season, that's a trade that could work.
If the Pelicans like Meyers Leonard, packaging him and a first-round pick for Mirotic would also work.
Pelicans swingman E'Twaun Moore is also on the trade block. The Blazers could offer Evan Turner and a first-round pick for Mirotic and Moore.
A trade of Harkless, Leonard and a first-round pick for Mirotic and Moore would also work.
All of these trades depend on the Pelicans being willing to take on 2019-20 salary and valuing Harkless, Leonard or Turner. If the Pelicans want expiring contracts and a first-round pick, putting together a trade becomes almost impossible for the Blazers.
Portland’s only expiring contracts are Al-Farouq Aminu and Seth Curry. Even if the Blazers were willing to include both of those players in a deal for Mirotic, the financial terms wouldn’t work.