Do the Blazers regret trading away Gary Trent Jr. ? It certainly seem like they could use a player just like him.


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After a thundering start to the season, the Portland Trail Blazers have fallen back down to earth, sitting at 10th in the Western Conference with a record of 11-11. Despite this recent slide, there have been some positive developments. The new-look backcourt of star Damian Lillard and young sensation Anfernee Simons have fit together when they have been able to share the floor. They have only played 11 games together so far, with the Blazers winning seven of those contests. Also, newly acquired forward Jerami Grant has averaged 22.2 points per game on a scorching hot 47.6% from three. The team’s defense was a story to behold on its own, yet the team’s defensive rating has plummeted to 24th in the league.

One player that the Blazers may be having second thoughts about is shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., an excellent shooter and a top-notch defender. He was fourth in overall steals for the season in 2021-2022 with 122. He is currently top-10 in steals per game this season and has a defensive rating of 114. Only combo forward Josh Hart, center Jusuf Nurkic, and center Drew Eubanks would have better defensive ratings on the current Blazers roster. Other than presumably Gary Payton II, who had a defensive rating of 102.6 in the 2021-2022 season and has not made his 2022-2023 NBA debut yet, Trent would have the highest defensive rating on the Blazers roster among guards.

While the Blazers aren’t lacking in young assets, Trent Jr. would inject more youth into their system. It was once thought that shooting guard Norman Powell was better suited to be a backcourt partner for Lillard, but he was traded away at the 2022 trade deadline. Powell is older than Trent Jr. and also has the experience of winning a championship in 2019, so the idea was to bring in veteran leadership to win now. However, after his trade, the Blazers are left with an offensive minded backcourt with a bench struggling to find its place offensively.

At the 2021 NBA trade deadline, the team traded away the young shooting guard Trent Jr. and sharpshooter Rodney Hood for the older, championship-furnished two-guard in Powell. That season Powell averaged 19.6 points, 3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.2 blocks while shooting 43.9% from three. At the same time, Gary Trent Jr. averaged 15 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.1 blocks while shooting 39.7% from three.

At the time, this felt like a win for the Blazers, as they got a veteran to help fill in the small forward position. Although undersized for the position, he was still an above-average defender and quick on his feet, while still maintaining a high offensive energy. The Blazers clearly felt like Powell was a part of the team’s future moving forward because soon after they signed him to a five-year, 90-million-dollar contract. In a surprise move, however, the Blazers eventually flipped him and forward Robert Covington for a package that brought back guard Eric Bledsoe, forward Justise Winslow, guard Keon Johnson, and a 2025 second-round pick.

What was the point of trading away a young and upcoming guard in Trent Jr. if they were just going to trade away the asset they received in the deal? If the Blazers had kept Trent Jr. and the same roster moves were made in the 2021-22 season, the team’s 2022-23 lineup and rotation would look drastically different.

The lineups the Blazers used in 2021-22 were largely a result of multiple players being injured and unavailable, so Trent Jr. would have had an even easier time finding a groove and his solidified role on the team during that time. He could have been the de facto shooting guard next to Anfernee Simons for a stretch of time. This could arguably have been a better situation to develop his playing style than in his role with the Toronto Raptors.

If everyone then came back healthy and the McCollum trade goes through in the same way, Trent Jr. could still have signed a three-year $51 million contract with the Blazers just like he did with the Raptors. This could have resulted in Simons being bumped out of the equation, since the team would essentially have to pick between the two at the off-guard position. Without Simons or McCollum there, the backcourt duo of Lillard and Trent Jr. would be more permanently realized. The starting lineup going into the 2022-23 season then would have been :

PG Damian Lillard

SG Gary Trent Jr.

SF Josh Hart

PF Jerami Grant

C Jusuf Nurkic

Trent Jr.’s immediate impact for the Blazers would have been on the defensive end, where he’s averaging 1.7 steals per game so far this year. Last season, he was 6th in steals per game averaging 1.7 per game while also being a force on the offensive end. He averaged 38.3% from the three-point range on 7.8 attempts per game. His shot-making ability would give Lillard and other Blazers playmakers a reliable shooter on the outside knowing full well he would show his defensive chops on the other end.

The team’s dwindling defensive presence would have been propped up with Gary Trent Jr.’s current 114.0 defensive rating. He’s currently averaging 17.2 points per game and while he may not have reached that number on this team, he would be shooting efficiently in a system where he isn’t needed to be a go-to scorer.

Although the starting lineup doesn’t look drastically different, the rest of the bench could. Assuming Gary Payton II still signs with the Blazers, they still draft Shaedon Sharpe, and they never traded Robert Covington, they would have those players along with Trendon Watford, and Drew Eubanks on the bench. Without Simons’ salary, the Blazers could have potentially signed another player in free agency. One interesting signing could have been center Isaiah Hartenstein, who signed with the New York Knicks. According to The Athletic, Portland was interested in signing Hartenstein. With a backup center needed in Rip City, Hartenstein could have filled the big man bench void on the roster. Justise Winslow and Keon Johnson would not be on the roster, but the aforementioned 6 players would be more than capable of handling all of the bench minutes.

Retaining Covington could have been vital for the Blazers in need of more defense and shooting, as he has seen a resurgence after being traded to the Clippers. He was shooting 40.1% and 38.1% from the field and 37.9% and 34.3% from three during his tenure in Portland. Since being traded, he has bumped his totals to 50% from the field and 45% from three respectively, proving he’s still a strong three-and-D player.

Although a fun scenario to look over, considerring that Trent Jr. has increased his points per game, steal numbers and three-point percentages since leaving Portland, it seems that the Blazers would have moved on from Trent Jr. at some point no matter what. According to Trent Jr.’s father, former Blazer Gary Trent Sr., Trent Jr. wasn’t happy in Portland.

“My biggest thing when I’m watching my son play is the happiness and joy that he plays with now. You know, my son played with so much pain and my son was so depressed and so down and so sad in Portland, that watching him play actually used to hurt. Because I knew my son wasn’t feeling himself, he wasn’t playing his game. He was under a lot of negative pressure from negative statements from front office people and lack of belief and things like that.” said Trent Sr. in an interview on the Raptor Show.

If Trent’s role would have been expanded in Portland as it was in Toronto, he may have been happier playing with the Blazers. It would be fun to see a more developed and confident Trent Jr. on this year’s Blazers squad; however, an increased role for Trent Jr. would come at the expense of Anfernee Simons and, more importantly, slowed down the development of the seventh overall pick of the 2022 NBA draft, Shaedon Sharpe. While the team would have been better off in the short-term with Gary Trent Jr., the potential upside of these players could make for an interesting future.