The Portland Trail Blazers have suffered a number of slings and arrows in the first half of the season, namely injuries to starters CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, as well as the setback in recovery for Zach Collins. The load on Damian Lillard is a lot to bear, but he has carried the team on his back while waiting for his teammates to return. With the trade deadline looming on March 25th, it stands to reason that the Blazers might make some moves. According to Jason Quick of the Athletic, that isn’t likely.
Some players who have been rumored to be potential buyout candidates are point guard George Hill, wing Tony Snell, sharpshooter Wayne Ellington and wing Otto Porter Jr., who is a player long desired by Olshey. Big man DeMarcus Cousins was waived last month by Houston, but a source said the Blazers will not consider him.
If the buyout market doesn’t materialize, Olshey will have to consider what he is willing to give up to make a trade happen. His most likely trade chip is Rodney Hood, who is owed $10 million this season, with a non-guaranteed contract at $10 million next season, but Hood has the third-lowest Player Efficiency Rating (4.69) in the NBA, ahead of only Dallas reserve Wes Iwundu and Oklahoma City rookie Aleksej Pokusevski.
Nor is it likely that the team will use their second two-way slot.
Adding a second two-way player (Keljin Blevins is the other two-way) is not in the plans, a source said, as the team has little to no use for a player who would simply be a warm body.
There are also significant questions about the rotation once Nurkic and McCollum return from their rehab. According to Coach Terry Stotts, that is still up in the air.
“We have some things to figure out once they get back,” Stotts said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a positive when they do, but there’s going to be an adjustment period.”
Some of those minutes may have to come from the younger guys who have been performing well.
“We’ve had guys come in and play well, but certainly Nurk and CJ are eventually going to have their regular minutes, and they have to come from somewhere,” Stotts said. “I’m not going to lock into any specific rotation, or minutes, or number of people or anything like that. It’s going to be an adjustment, and it’s going to take a bit of time to figure things out.”
That said, the compressed schedule of the second half means that the team will have to get serious about load management.
“So load management will come into it,” Stotts said. “I will take load into account in decisions along the way, and that’s why I can’t really say what (the rotation) is going to be on a night-to-night basis.”
Lillard has his eyes on the prize as a top-six seed, and he hopes the team can plan accordingly.
“I think in the past, when I feel like I can play, I want to play,” Lillard said. “I don’t want to leave the team out there to dry, or not be out there because my job is to be out there if I’m healthy. But I think that’s where we can be better at, sometimes just doing what might be better for us in the long run, and not working so hard to get to a certain spot in the playoffs, and then when we get there, we pretty much running out of gas.”
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