Long overdue for a makeover, the Portland Trail Blazers became
sellers at this year’s trade deadline. CJ McCollum, Norman Powell
and Robert Covington are all gone in place of more youth and future
With Damian Lillard presumably out for the rest of the season,
this provided Portland the ideal opportunity to hit the reset
button. The main question, though, always circles back around to
Lillard’s long-term future with the Blazers.
Is Lillard seriously going to sit through an extended rebuild
through his mid-30s? With three years remaining on Lillard’s
contract in 2022-23, here’s the current core group to move forward
with: Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Josh Hart, Keon
Johnson, Justise Winslow, Didi Louzada, Greg Brown III.
Simons has proven to be a real building block during his
full-fledged breakout campaign, but there are many questions
outside of him. Little has flashed some improvements, but
consistency for him was still needed before going down with an
injury. Hart and Johnson were the primary pieces returned in the
Blazers’ midseason roster remake.
In the end, will that crop of young players be enough to keep
Lillard content while also competing within an actual championship
window? That answer remains murky at best, particularly a Finals
appearance being close to feasible.
Portland created oodles of flexibility this summer via free
agency or the trade market to improve rapidly around Lillard. If
the next disgruntled star wants out this summer, the Blazers can at
least have a seat at the table as potentially realistic
destinations. They are set up well with future draft capital, plus
multiple young players and a large, soon-to-be expiring contract
with Eric Bledsoe.
The franchise can get into many discussions simply based off the
variability of its asset collection. They could’ve gotten more in
both deals — which could loom large if they swing-and-miss this
offseason — but the idea on paper makes sense.
The Blazers' last roster makeup was based around the dynamic
high-usage backcourt of Lillard and McCollum. The backcourt's
defensive abilities, or lack thereof, limited its potential
ceiling. In the next chapter for Portland, what will be necessary
to build an instant contender?
With it being unlikely that the Blazers land a star-level
player, the NBA Draft is their best bet to reshaping on the fly
while also achieving another chapter post-Lillard. In the McCollum
trade, Portland received a 2022 first-round pick from the Pelicans
where it’s likely to convey this season (protected 1-4, 15-30).
With two top-10 picks at its disposal, Portland has the
artillery to make some splashy moves on draft night, whether it be
acquiring two young prospects or a seismic blockbuster trade.
Lillard seemingly is fine on the surface signing another
record-breaking contract with the Blazers, but, deep down, when
will this reach a level of discontent where lines are drawn? When
will Lillard make the pressure too hot for the Blazers to handle?
For a scorer of Lillard’s caliber, he deserves to legitimately
chase championships during the second half of his prime years. At
the moment, that destination isn’t realistically in Portland.
Building a team around young players and maybe a re-signed Jusuf
Nurkic isn’t going to make even a noticeable dent in the Western
Conference. Sure, Simons is a fun backcourt partner with Lillard,
but it keeps Portland in the same position it was with McCollum all
these years already.
This is what makes the Jerami Grant rumors so interesting around
the Blazers entering such an important offseason. As said on
BasketballNews.com's Trade Deadline Twitter
Space, HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto relayed Grant to Portland was
generating the most buzz before the deadline with less than 24
hours to go. Grant’s fit with Lillard and the Blazers would be
excellent, finally providing a real two-way wing next to his
Grant, Lillard and Simons is something to build around, but it’s
again another roadblock when seriously considering a real Finals
push. If we’re being honest, Grant is the likely move Portland
makes to push more chips in with Lillard. How it plays out is a
completely different story though.
For both Lillard and the Blazers, the realization that it might
be time for a split is closing in. As we just saw in the Super Bowl
with Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, staying loyal
forever doesn’t always lead to the ultimate prize. Stafford
requested a trade from the lowly
Detroit Lions and instantly won a championship with Los
Lillard is the NBA’s version of Stafford, so loyal to a fault
and always putting the team on his back. Stafford eventually knew
the time arrived to make a change for his legacy's sake. Lillard
has to be envisioning this when canvassing Portland’s future
It’s again slowly bubbling under the surface, but the Blazers
remain one of the most intriguing teams in the league for yet
another offseason. How Portland maneuvered at the deadline gave a
sneak peek into what should be a summer with gigantic stakes.
Now, we wait and see how it all unfolds for an organization with
change occurring on all levels.
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