The Trail Blazers’ sluggish start to the season has been well documented, which has ignited an inferno of trade speculation about what President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey will have to do to turn things around. With very little cap flexibility, and even fewer assets, Portland might have to consider breaking up its stellar backcourt.
Michael Pina of RealGM took a look at Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s long-term viability as a starting duo, and entertained some ideas on how the Trail Blazers might maximize their trade value down the road.
Pina highlights the offensive gifts that the Blazers’ backcourt possesses, but also looked at the flaws that put this tandem into question:
At the center of it all sit Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two exceedingly gifted scorers who both deserved All-Star consideration even though neither made the team. Lillard and McCollum reasons 1A and 1B why this franchise shouldn’t panic, but their flaws inflame the Blazers’ fundamental weaknesses, creating understandable long-term question marks regarding their ability to coexist.
Pina elaborates on those weaknesses here, while also introducing the idea of a potential trade:
Can you win a title with two terrible defenders in the backcourt? McCollum comes in at 404 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus while Lillard ranks 424th (out of 440 players). If not, what changes need to be made? If one has to go—both are signed to max contracts through 2021—who should it be?
Making a trade to separate Lillard and McCollum might be a little extreme at this point, especially when you consider that Portland is still playing through its second full season with the current pairing in place. The Trail Blazers will likely need to make a move to balance their roster, or they will run the risk of being a perennial fringe playoff team.
Olshey quickly runs-out of viable trade options after Lillard and McCollum. Portland’s draft choices could have real value internally this offseason, and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement lessens the market of the “mid-tier” players on the roster.
After giving examples of Lillard and McCollum’s defensive shortcomings, Pina speculates on kind of offers the Blazers would garner by making one of their guards available:
Would the Detroit Pistons fork over Andre Drummond for one of them? Could they work out a star for star trade with the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler—in which Portland forks over more than just one of their starting guards? How about the Philadelphia 76ers for Nerlens Noel and some future assets?
Given the “poison pill” status of McCollum’s current contract, the list of available suitors for his services shrinks significantly. Lillard is currently the face of the franchise, so the Blazers might be hesitant when it comes to parting ways. If Portland continues to underperform, though, these discussions could edge closer to reality.