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Blazers’ Success Starts & Ends With Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum

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Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney discusses the Trail Blazers’ aggressive attempt to rebuild around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Two Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers parlayed their trip to the Western Conference Finals into a completely re-tooled roster heading into the 2019-20 season. Despite the significant overhaul, Portland’s talented backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will remain together. The Blazers’ have received both praise and criticism for their transactions over the summer.

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney took a moment to remind readers that everything starts and ends with the Lillard-McCollum tandem. After outlining the Blazers’ roster moves, Mahoney explained how he views Portland’s busy offseason in front of a postseason backdrop.

Moreover: Portland lost so many of its rotation players that looking at the roster as a series of one-to-one replacements wouldn’t begin to cover it. Both Collins and Hood will have to do more. The buzz around 20-year-old Anfernee Simons is understandable, but also practical; if the Blazers’ underlying goal this summer is to become a more dynamic team, belief in a young creator serves as a means to that end. It’s a compelling thought. We’ve seen years of what Lillard and McCollum can accomplish when surrounded by defenders and specialists. Even if this revised group is no less imperfect, it will at least be imperfect in different ways. Opponents had grown accustomed to Aminu and Harkless. Now they’ll be forced to reckon with a reimagined supporting cast, all while trying to keep Lillard and McCollum under wraps.

Mahoney goes on to credit the Blazers’ aggressive offseason that was preceded by a lengthy playoff run that ended in a sweep. Specifically, Mahoney voiced his approval of Portland’s decision to trade for Hassan Whiteside.

Portland deserves credit for recognizing that, and for going a step further in actually doing something about it. Some of the individual moves the Blazers made may not be all that productive. Whiteside, in particular, was available in part because of all the ways he had frustrated the Heat. Maybe he’ll be a changed, more engaged player with the Blazers. More likely, he’ll be the same finisher, bulk rebounder, and empty-calorie shot-blocker he’s always been. Portland can’t know until it tries, and gave up so little to acquire Whiteside that one can at least see the merit in the concept. Whiteside’s context has changed, too. There are worse ideas than identifying clearly talented (and clearly disappointing) players, putting them around a leader like Lillard, and hoping for the best.

You can ready Mahoney’s full post at Sports Illustrated.