I’ll be entirely honest: I’ve never wanted a good team to change more than this Portland Trail Blazers team. Portland isn’t the New York Knicks, a team that in spite of all their market advantages fails to put a successful product on the floor year after year, nor are they a team that has refused to spend money or walk the tight-wad tightrope endlessly, treating the franchise more as a money printing machine than a sporting enterprise invested in competition.
I’ve advocated for change for half of a decade now and I’m getting to the point where I believe this is the last chance they will have to make a move that really matters for THIS version led by Damian Lillard. If for nothing else, I have to at least entertain the idea of what a change (or changes) could look like. Otherwise, it’s like staring at the same painting in front of the hamster wheel — and it’s a NICE painting. No matter how unrealistic they may seem, I have to consider them.
The Damian Lillard-era Blazers have been a lot of things for a lot of people: a contrast to the “ringzzz” culture, a beacon of commitment, an underdog story, a disappointment, everything you could ever hope for, but there’s one thing they just haven’t been, which is a real contender.
Before the first comment pops up with “but they made the Western Conference Finals?!” just do me a favor and hang your “made the Conference Finals” banner up in your bedroom or office and move on. I’m not here to diminish the achievement, but I’m not here to celebrate it beyond that moment either. It was fun. Absolutely a thrilling ride. I got to cover it from a view I never thought I’d have, yet they still weren’t in the same class as the either Finals participants. That’s okay in THAT moment, but the need to progress or regress needs to happen.
I feel like the Boy Who Cried They Need To Make a Trade here, because I’ve been saying it bluntly since CJ McCollum’s breakout performance against the Memphis Grizzlies 5-plus years ago.
So, let’s set the table here for any newcomers: I do not dislike CJ McCollum. I don’t want to trade him for the sake of trading him. I do not think he’s a bad player. In fact I think he would put up incredible numbers as the primary initiator on his own team. I do think that neither Lillard nor McCollum can maximize their talents within the current salary structure and roster construction, so in order for both players to flourish, one must go, and it’s not going to be Lillard.
So yes, I’ll say it plainly as it’s not nuclear secrets: I believe the Trail Blazers need to and should look to move McCollum this offseason for the piece, or pieces, to balance and complete this roster and no one save Jusuf Nurkic (alongside Lillard) should be off the table in discussions, not as a matter of production but as a way to maximize the potential outcome.
The follow up to this is inevitably somewhere along these lines:
- Who would you move McCollum for?
- Do you think the Blazers would move McCollum?
I’m actually going to answer the second question first. I do not believe they will move McCollum. President of Basketball Operations, Neil Olshey, loves his guys. Everyone he has drafted is one of his guys. Every player he has signed is his guy. Rarely does he move any guy, but when he does it’s a pretty straight forward flowchart: that guy is 1) in the last year of their contract and/or 2) not in the rotation. Olshey became POBO for the Trail Blazers June 4th, 2012; here’s the list of rotation players traded:
This is neither critique, nor endorsement – it’s Olshey’s record. That record shows that he doesn’t move guys that have years remaining on their deals. Doubly so for players that have years on their deals AND they’re in the rotation.
So, because I’m a masochist and like to look at things that are probably far off in fantasy land and you should never propose a change without offering a solution, which way could Portland go if the impossible happened?
The easiest place to start is with, who’s likely available – so let’s take a look at two that haven’t popped up a ton, and neither of them are Aaron Gordon or Blake Griffin.
My Buddy and…B?
On that list, Buddy Hield has made it known he’s not entirely happy in Sacramento. He hasn’t put his house up for sale on Twitter to force a trade, but it’s something to watch.
So what could a deal look like with the Kings? Well, first let’s analyze some things on the outside. Has Olshey ever made a deal with the Kings? Yes. Lots of them. Even with a changing of the front office, there’s likely still enough goodwill here to believe those connections still exist. That immediately bumps this deal up an imaginary notch or two.
If Portland is looking to retool, landing one of the 10 most accurate volume 3-point shooters in the history of the league would be a solid place to start. Hield is accurate from all three levels but over the last couple seasons he’s pushed out to the three point line so much that nearly 60 percent of his shots came from there. SIXTY. That’s…well it’s just ridiculous that he’s shooting that much from there; everyone knows where he’s going to shoot from and yet he knocked down almost 40 percent. Absurd.
While his proclivity for shooting is certainly his stand-out skill, he’s a lesser playmaker and non-existent with generating free throws. In the modern era, Hield (and Klay Thompson) are the only 20-point per game players with equal or lesser free throw rates than McCollum. Throw in playmaking skills that fall short of top-notch and a non-God tier handle to create shots from and the paths between McCollum and Hield start to diverge, which is why Portland looks for more than a straight swap.
The Kings have some interesting pieces and while Harrison Barnes is tempting as far as fit and style, the contract is too much to swallow. Nemanja Bjelica, however, is someone I could get behind. A smooth shooting, pick and popping, plus defending, 6-foot-10-inch big that’s in his prime and ready to go, who is on a good contract, would do a lot to straighten out the Blazers’ big man rotation. Conveniently enough, a swap of McCollum for Hield/Bjelica works financially.
Portland would have to use other assets to increase their playmaking capacity to round out the roster here, but a lineup of Dame/Hield/Hood/Bjelica/Nurkic looks pretty solid on paper. Finding a way to capitalize on Portland’s first round pick, Trevor Ariza/Rodney Hood and the MLE with a combination of young players should allow Portland to secure a playmaking wing, a back-up ball handler, and a bench wing/big for spot duty.
Buy Low on Dipo
The working theory is that both the Indiana Pacers and Victor Oladipo are on professional speaking terms, but both would welcome a change and it wouldn’t take much to make it happen. There’s definitely a chance at a larger deal here.
I love Oladipo. If you go back far enough you’ll find something I wrote about Portland moving Batum in order to draft Oladipo when came out. While he’s not that player right now (and he may never be again), this is the kind of buy low deal where Portland could come out waaaaay ahead. They could also fall short and irritate their star player too.
I’m going to use the same rationale here that I used on draft night in 2017: if Portland would’ve drafted Donovan Mitchell and he was only 70% of McCollum, it would’ve been a win if they moved McCollum and capitalized on the freed up money by having a young star guard on a rookie deal. Now that wouldn’t be entirely the same here with Oladipo on an expiring deal where he’s looking for more money, but again he’s not entirely the prize as Portland is looking for more than just Oladipo in return here.
TJ Warren has shown real growth in the last few years and would give Portland something they haven’t had since Brandon Roy – a wing with size that can create off the bounce and finish in the paint with grace and power. Warren certainly leaves you wanting more as a playmaker (sub-par passer and tunnel vision at times) and as a rebounder (rebounding percentage is among the worst for his size) but he can absolutely score from all levels efficiently, get to the free throw line, and be a near-plus defender.
If Oladipo gives you 70% of what he’s capable of (and stays healthy) while Warren continues to play at this level (while on a TREMENDOUSLY good deal) Portland could be in business real fast. Which is all the more reason why this is entirely unlikely- but as it happens, a deal of McCollum for Oladipo and Warren is again workable under the collective bargaining agreement.
Both of these deals involve risks; any other will too. They are risks Portland has yet to be willing to make so far in the Lillard-era. This could blow up horribly and I get that, but we also know this isn’t a title contending team as currently constructed (if you’re basing your projections on a player becoming an MVP or HoF level player beyond Lillard, we need to discuss what projections are actually used for).
I also understand that you typically try to trade 2-for-1 to get the one, but in this instance Portland needs to diversify their roster while taking a risk or two to see if more than swapping deck chairs is enough to break through that glass ceiling. These deals aren’t the best deals, nor do they account for Portland maybe believing that Gary Trent Jr could be the heir apparent to McCollum in the same way McCollum was for Wes Matthews, but they at least give me something different to think about.