The only thing the Portland Trail Blazers gained from their playoff sweep last season at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans was learning that they don’t have the depth to legitimately compete in the Western Conference at this point. But there is hope. Despite the fact that the team remains largely the same as last season, they have a bevy of promising young players who could help the team in the coming years.
With the Western Conference getting even tougher this upcoming season, thanks to LeBron James signing with the Lakers, this current Blazers squad may be able to scrap together enough wins to earn the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs, only to serve as a sacrificial lamb in the first round. The problem is that this does nothing to help the team moving forward. The core group has plenty of playoff experience, what they need is help.
Most of that help could very well already be on the roster. Zach Collins improved vastly throughout last season, and players like Caleb Swanigan and Wade Baldwin IV showed flashes of what they can provide as well. Add promising rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. to the mix, and you have the makings of what could develop into a solid rotation, along with the nucleus of Jusuf Nurkic, CJ McCollum, and of course Damian Lillard.
However, that will require these young players getting legitimate game minutes, and being allowed to play through their early mistakes, even if those mistakes ultimately lead to losses. With such a wing-heavy lottery projected this upcoming draft, a few losses in the sake of player development could actually end up helping the team net that missing piece.
While doing this would no doubt be tough on Lillard, in the prime of his career, in the long run, it’s his best chance to win a championship in Portland. With such a stacked Western Conference, the Blazers’ only chance to compete in the next few years (while Lillard is still in his prime), is to get their young players ready to contribute, and soon. Luring premier free agents to Portland has been difficult historically, but the team has succeeded in the past by building through the draft. They could use another high lottery pick, and this is the perfect opportunity to do so, while also preparing for the future. It’s a win-win.
All that being said, I’m not advocating the team play Simons 40 minutes a night, or even 30. But the youngster, as well as guys like Swanigan, Baldwin, and Trent Jr., need a chance to get their feet wet. By letting these guys play, the Blazers will have a better idea of whether or not they fit into the team’s plans moving forward. The sooner they figure that out, the sooner they will be ready to compete for a legitimate playoff run. After all, they’ve got nothing to lose.