Report: Portland buyer at trade deadline, first-round pick ‘in play’

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The Portland Trail Blazers are good: Damian Lillard is having another All-NBA level season, C.J. McCollum is a high-quality scorer, and Jusuf Nurkic has stepped up his game of late. At 32-20, Portland would have home court in the first round of the playoffs if they started today.

But are the Blazers a real playoff threat? When teams start trapping Lillard and McCollum, can Portland counter and make teams pay?

The questions about them in the playoffs have the Blazers as potential buyers at the trade deadline, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Portland stands a potential buyer — an under-the-radar really good team with questions about its postseason viability. The Trail Blazers have put their first-round pick in play, per sources around the league. They have investigated Otto Porter‘s availability. Taurean Prince makes some sense; he’s up for an extension this summer, and the Hawks have made him available, sources say. As a free agent non-destination, the Blazers value players whose rights they can control.

But the Hawks are asking a lot so far — a young player and a pick — and haven’t gotten much traction on Prince trades, sources say.

Another off-the-beaten path name from Orlando: Evan Fournier — a wing who could give Portland or some other team some shooting and playmaking. He has two years and $34 million left on his contract; if the Magic aren’t thrilled with that deal, they could suss out his value.

Porter would be a great fit with Portland, but there is a sense the Wizards are not going to be sellers at the deadline (Washington is the 10 seed in the East, 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and they want to make a postseason push).

The problem is Portland is already $7.9 million into the luxury tax this season and are poised to be a tax payer again next season — they also want to move off salary. To improve a team and lower the tax bill (by sending out bad contracts) comes at a high cost, and a first-round pick alone is not enough.

The challenge at the trade deadline this season is there are a lot more buyers than sellers, which dampens the market. While the buzz focuses around possible Anthony Davis and Mike Conley trades, there will be smaller deals that get done, maybe just not that many of them this year. But the Trail Blazers are one team that could pull a trade off, keep an eye on them.