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Mid-Season Trades Could Define Future for Trail Blazers

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Portland is poised for a good season, but also more moves.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

We are coming to the end of our series of questions facing the Portland Trail Blazers as they enter the 2019-20 regular season. We know guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be great, as always. What other factors could make the difference between a good season and a great one?

So far we’ve uncovered:

9. How much can Pau Gasol contribute?

8. Who will hit catch-and-shoot threes?

7. Can the centers stay out of foul trouble?

6. Who’s going to defend?

5. Will Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons fit into bigger roles?

4. Do the Blazers have a true starting forward?

3. Are fastbreak points finally on the menu this year?

The penultimate question awaits...

Question #2: Will the Blazers Make any Mid-Season Trades?

The Portland Trail Blazers are justifiably proud of the personnel moves they made this summer. Long-coveted Hassan Whiteside and Pau Gasol are now in the fold. Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver will round out a roster that should automatically challenge for the second round in the Western Conference Playoffs and hopes to go much farther.

Though President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey describes this team as the “deepest” he’s assembled in Portland, it’s also among the most transitional.

The following are all true of the Trail Blazers this year:

  • They have the highest payroll in the NBA. They’re scheduled to outspend the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, and Los Angeles Clippers, all of whom appear to have more settled rosters.
  • They have significant holes at both forward positions. They won’t run out a clear starter at the three or four on opening night.
  • Other than Lillard, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and young players on rookie deals, nobody has a guaranteed contract past next summer. Whiteside, Bazemore, Gasol, and Tolliver are in the last (or only) year of their contracts. Rodney Hood, Skal Labissiere, and Mario Hezonja all have contract options. (Hood’s $6 million option is the only one of significant value.)

Spending through the roof without ensuring a trip deep into the playoffs isn’t smart. Nor is walking into the playoffs with roster gaps and temporary players, no matter how talented. The Blazers are perfectly set up for mid-season moves. They have the capacity and incentive to take on significant cast-offs from teams looking for cap relief or draft picks.

Taking on a big contract mid-season is one of the few courses left for Portland to make an earth-shaking move during the Lillard-McCollum era. Their alternative is dumping all of their non-guaranteed players at the end of the season. This would open up $18 million plus in cap room to sign free agents in 2020. Whether they could attract the same level of talent in free agency that they could acquire via trade remains to be seen.

The biggest questions of the 2019-20 season might not involve talent, scheme, or rotations, but what the Blazers could morph into with the right trade. Are franchise-changing players available, does Portland have the right assets, and do they have the fortitude (financial and otherwise) to make the move?

We’ll find out in February.

Next up: The biggest question facing the Trail Blazers this year.