As the Portland Trail Blazers have struggled to find success in the NBA Playoffs, questions surrounding their future have abounded. None comes closer to the core than potential trades for star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, whose contracts expire simultaneously in the summer of 2021. Haley O’Shaughnessy of The Ringer took up the matter in an extensive essay on Portland’s options, which appear to be narrowing every year.
O’Shaughnessy begins by chronicling the fateful free agency period of 2016, when the Blazers committed big money to surprising players. “What general manager Neil Olshey was looking for was security. What he got was a straitjacket.” She continues:
The great overspending of 2016 is now a story read to team presidents and GMs at night as a warning about what happens when you dig deep in your pockets for someone like Evan Turner. Poor decision-making wasn’t limited to Portland that summer, but no other team with that level of backcourt talent has had such restrictions in free agency since.
The article also details Portland’s disastrous trip to the 2018 NBA Playoffs, where they were swept in the first round by the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans eliminated Portland with one of the most basic defensive concepts: ruthlessly doubling their most important player. Swarmed, Lillard couldn’t penetrate, find a decent shot, or keep the ball safe...
She apportions plenty of responsibility to people in suits:
The gaping holes in the frontcourt and on the wing are Olshey’s scarlet letter to wear, but the shortcomings in Stotts’s game plan were unignorable.
O’Shaughnessy then moves to the heart of the matter, Portland’s ongoing performance.
There is little ball sharing in Stott’s offense (to be fair, there are few players worth sharing the ball with). It’s operated by two isolation-happy guards. Lillard and McCollum account for more than 55 percent of the team’s shots off drives, an almost identical percentage to James Harden and Chris Paul’s in Houston.
From this, she launches into the broader discussion of blowing up the roster, including trades for McCollum and Lillard. After treating the various angles, she finishes with a simple assertion:
Either way, the Blazers are headed for an inevitable reboot.
O’Shaughnessy offers much, much more than we can print here. Her assessment is a must-read for Blazers fans.