Surgery for Robert Williams disrupts big-man trade market

Robert Williams III is out for the 2023-24 season due to knee surgery, and the ripples are going to reverberate far beyond just the Trail Blazers. In fact, we might see the biggest effect of his absence at the trade deadline.

Williams injured his knee in a collision with Jaren Jackson Jr. earlier this week. The backup center, who has had a history of knee injuries, made the decision on season-ending surgery which will keep him out until the start of the 2023-24 season.

Portland acquired the 26-year-old when the Boston Celtics traded Williams and Malcolm Brogdon in exchange for Jrue Holiday. Williams’ defense was a big part of the 2021-22 Celtics team that reached the NBA Finals, but a meniscus tear – and his premature return from the injury for the playoffs – kept him out for months.

Just a year ago, Williams, nicknamed “Time Lord,” was named to the All-Defensive second team. He’s quick, able to contest shots at the perimeter and the rim, which was on display when he blocked a franchise-record nine shots in the first game of the 2021 playoffs.

Because Portland acquired center Deandre Ayton when they traded Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks, Williams was an attractive trade target for other teams. With Ayton on board, Williams was expendable, as well as being slightly older than the rest of the Blazers’ young core.

But now, Williams will be unavailable until next season, where he’ll have two years and roughly $26 million left on his deal. That’s very reasonable for a player of Williams’s talent, even if his injury history is a huge red flag.

The result is that other big men potentially on the trade market become much more valuable. First among these may be Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks, especially after center Onyeke Okongwu signed an extension through the 2027-28 season.

We could also see the Dallas Mavericks shop one of their many big men, with the emergence of rookie center Dereck Lively II. Richaun Holmes of Maxi Kleber could be expendable if the 19-year-old Lively continues to impress. And with the Utah Jazz looking like they’re again headed for the lottery, Kelly Olynyk could also be an attractive trade target.

Perhaps getting this surgery and simply taking the season off will be enough to finally solve Williams’s health issues. At which point the Time Lord trade rumors will start up stronger than ever. 

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