The Portland Trail Blazers are among the more likely candidates to blow up their roster and start on a new course. That’s the conclusion reached by Sam Quinn of CBS Sports in an article ranking all 30 NBA teams by their current status and future potential.
Quinn has Portland 8th in the order, nat the top of a category termed, “What Are We Trying to Do Here?” It’s the fourth tier in the ranking, for teams caught in no-man’s land between prospering and rebuilding.
Of the Blazers, Quinn says:
Portland Trail Blazers: Portland is the organic, artisanal version of Sacramento [the Sacramento Kings]. They’re above .500! The offense rules! Damian Lillard is happy in Portland! That’s all well and good, and if the goal here is to just remain competitive for Lillard’s sake, they’re doing swell. But their 22nd-ranked defense locks them out of the championship picture. That’s going to be the case until they upgrade on Jusuf Nurkic (which won’t be easy given his age, injury history and $70 million contract), and even then, their reliance on small guards limits their upside. Shaedon Sharpe has looked so promising that a star trade might be feasible if the right player hits the market, but the first-rounder they currently owe Chicago is protected so heavily that they effectively can’t trade another first-rounder without removing those protections entirely.
Portland has already lost playoff series to Western Conference heavy-hitters Denver and Golden State with essentially this formula. The gap between it and the true up-and-comers like Memphis and New Orleans is widening by the day. A star trade is the Blazers’ only path to closing that gap during Lillard’s prime. If we’re being honest with ourselves, their best chance to develop championship equity in the near future would be to deal Lillard while he’d still bring back a haul and then use that haul to ensure that their backcourt of the future, Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, has the size and defensive support around them that Lillard and CJ McCollum never did.
Of course, Lillard has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be traded. That has seemingly taken a trade off the table. I’d like to remind the Blazers that teams are technically allowed to trade star players whether or not they want to be traded and that they should probably act in their own self interest, but Lillard is so beloved in the Portland community that they almost certainly won’t. So here we are. There are worse fates than watching a team icon lose in their first round every spring, but the price of doing so is the knowledge that everyone involved could do better.
The Kings, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Golden State Warriors also inhabit this tier in Quinn’s scale.