The Portland Trail Blazers own an 18-16 record and are sitting in the middle of the NBA’s Western Conference Standings. It’s not as bad as they might have done, given all the changes surrounding the team this season. It’s also not as good as they hoped they’d do given their talent level and a fast start to the year.
In that murky middle, questions arise. People want direction, firm decisions, and ultimately solutions. That quest is behind the question at the heart of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Come on, Dave. You can’t seriously tell us to wait on this team because the problem is injuries. The problem is how they’re put together. This roster is poorly constructed and no amount of saccharine platitudes is going to change that. This team isn’t going anywhere even when its healthy. It’s time to end this experiment.
Call me Michael
Saccharine platitudes? When I’m insulted, I prefer to be insulted smartly, at least. I like it!
If you’ll forgive the aspartame assertion, of course the Blazers aren’t in final form. Nobody said they were. But injuries ARE an issue right now and have been through the season. We haven’t really seen their intended form yet, let alone any final one. Damian Lillard was out for a few weeks. Then when he returned, the entire mid-rotation went on medical leave.
The “poorly constructed” claim has two major justifications.
The first is defense. Saying the Blazers are good, or even decent, at it would be a mite silly right now. The starting guard combo isn’t developing as well defensively as hoped.
But that’s not a surprise to the front office. They knew the possibility was there, especially with Anfernee Simons being 23 and entering his first season of major responsibility. Oh, and Lillard is coming off a long break after surgery. They understood the potential for a hole in the side of the boat. They lived through the Lillard-CJ McCollum years too.
Justise Winslow, Nassir Little, and Gary Payton II were the boards nailed to the hull over that hole. They were never going to be airtight, but they were there to stop the leak from becoming fatal.
With all three players out, we’re not seeing this roster as intended. Those boards got washed away and water is pouring in. That’s not a crime. It’s understandable. It’s also not fair to judge the intent of the people in the captain’s seat without them. The front office didn’t make the storm. They inherited the hull. They’re just trying to get this thing moving towards port where they can refit properly.
The second justification for poor construction is the roster imbalance towards smaller players. In some ways this is understandable as well. Joe Cronin has only been on the job a year, and he has a mandate to not trade the single most valuable piece the franchise has. Time to manufacture other moves (and/or solutions) is a necessary part of the process.
Again, I’d argue that the front office is aware of this. This isn’t the final form for the Blazers. It can’t be.
Forget looking at the team in March. Forecast them two years from now. They’re already on the hook for around $125 million in cap obligation in 2024-25. That doesn’t include starting forwards Jerami Grant and Josh Hart. It looks like Grant is going to earn every bit of the $30 million pundits forecast for him. Setting Hart at $17, that pushes the roster cost to $172 million, and that’s not even the full tally. With incoming draftees, they’d end up north of $180 with no changes and Lillard two years older.
That doesn’t make sense financially, nor in basketball terms. Getting taxed to oblivion for a (to this point) non-championship roster with spotty defense and a severe lack of height/bulk would be foolish. You’re going to see the Blazers make moves before then.
Which circles us back to the original point. We’re going to have to wait and see what this roster is capable of AND what the front office actually does with that information. We don’t know either now. With nine players 25 years old or under, we might not know much about the future of this roster, period.
Even though we want instant answers—and results—neither is forthcoming. We do know that the Blazers were doing very well at the start of the season, have rebounded reasonably from some hard times since, and are experiencing systematic issues which are not only unsurprising, but impossible to compensate for given their health status.
With all those things in play, “wait and see” really does seem like the best approach for now. If the Blazers can find a sweetheart deal, a path to instant and demonstrable improvement, of course they should take it. That always remains true. Short of that, we don’t know much yet. Finding out is better than jumping at solutions to problems that either can’t be fixed or might not remain problems long-term.
Thanks for the question! You can always send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to answer!