The Portland Trail Blazers have reached the unofficial midpoint of the NBA season, and following a four-game win streak ahead of the All-Star break, it has left us wondering what the direction of the team will be after the break. Our staff roundtable answers the question: will the Blazers tank or do something else with the time they have left this season?
L. Hostetler: While it’s been really fun to watch the Blazers win with this particular lineup — especially the breakout performances of Anfernee Simons — there is a lot at stake if the Blazers don’t embrace the tank. Our own Conor Bergin had a great breakdown of the possible cost here. Sure, a Cinderella story is enticing, but at some point, it feels like cutting off our nose to spite our face. We need to be building toward the future.
That said, I completely understand that these guys have their pride to play for. You can see it in Jusuf Nurkic’s recent play as the Bosnian Beast reemerges. Whatever direction this team decides to take, I’ll still be watching and cheering them on.
Jeremy Brener: At this point, the Blazers are likely headed for the lottery, landing in the 5-14 range. There is a big difference between the top three (Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s Paolo Banchero) and the rest of the lottery-bound prospects.
Therefore, “embracing the tank” wouldn’t be my direction if I were the Blazers. The recent four-game winning streak has shown that this team can be competitive, so why not try to shoot for the 10 seed? Yes, it likely means a play-in loss, but you build a winning culture with the group that you hope to pair with Damian Lillard next season in order to be more of a contender.
If you don’t finish in the play-in, you get a lottery pick in the top 10, likely 8-10 if we’re being honest. If you do make the play-in, getting a pick somewhere from 11-14 isn’t much of a difference.
I understand why Blazers fans want the team to lose to get the highest pick possible, but the payoff isn’t worth trying to tank the season.
Joe Moore: The Blazers being on a four-game win streak marks some of the most fun basketball we’ve seen in Portland in years. The ball is moving, the young guys are running, and the energy on the court is electric. If the Blazers view this season as more of a retool than a rebuild, making the playoffs might be their best case scenario. The Blazers owe their first round pick to the Chicago Bulls the next time it falls outside of the lottery, and due to the protections on the pick, the Blazers cannot trade a first round pick until their 2028 pick.
If this iteration of the Blazers makes the playoffs it will instill a winning culture all the way down the roster and convey the pick this year. The pick conveying is not ideal if the Blazers like multiple players at the back of the lottery, but it does open up the possibility of trading five first rounders for a big contributor in the off-season.
If the Blazers really want to compete next year, the best course of action is not to play for a pick, but to play to have the young guys learn how to win on their own.
Paul Navarre: The Blazers as an organization have already embraced the tank. The catch is that the players have not, and that’s as it should be. We’ve certainly seen other teams be much more aggressive with the tank, finding mysterious injuries to their best players as well as other shenanigans, but at least for now the Blazers have implemented an “honest” tank. With Simons, Nurkić and, well, most of the rest of the team playing for their next contract, the players won’t playing for the tank any time soon.
I’m quite content to see how this plays out. While the recent improvement in play has been eye-opening, I firmly believe this team won’t be in the playoffs. It’s one thing to win some games when teams are missing their best player and are looking to just get to the All-Star break. It’s quite another to win day-in and day-out for a long period of time. Other teams are watching game tape right now and are figuring what these new-look Blazers are doing, and they’ll be ready.
But what happens if the Blazers keep winning? If Simons keeps playing lights-out? What happens if we miss our chance at a generational talent? Maybe... just maybe... the next generational talent we are looking for is already on the court for us.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!