Over the past decade, the Neil Olshey-run Blazers ran an extremely tight ship when it came to publicizing dealings during the free agency and trade periods. The few rumors mentioned during this period seemed almost expertly curated, delivered via the same regular sources.
Things have changed. Just in the past week, the Blazers have been linked to Bradley Beal, Jerami Grant, Zach Lavine, Miles Bridges, OG Anunoby, Obi Toppin, Deandre Ayton and John Collins.
Courtesy of Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:
League sources say the Blazers are exploring trades for veterans who can help Damian Lillard lead the team back to the postseason.
Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine are potential targets, according to sources. Lillard befriended Beal through their experience with Team USA, and the Wizards star has a player option for next season.
Sources say another player to keep in mind is Hornets forward Miles Bridges. Pistons forward Jerami Grant is often mentioned as a target for the Blazers, but the same logic applies for Bridges.
One other player frequently mentioned to be on Portland’s radar is Atlanta’s John Collins, who is a lob threat that could provide more defensive versatility than Jusuf Nurkic.
Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer later added more fuel to the Collins fire, going into the pieces it might take to get the deal done.
“Someone told me today that if Portland offered the seventh pick to Atlanta they think they would do it straight up. I think there’s a way to make it with that Eric Bledsoe contract and that $3.99 million guaranteed. That’s a framework that’s been talked to me about something to look out for. I don’t know if it’s been discussed, I want to be clear, but it’s something people have pitched to me that something has a really a high likelihood.”
We know that most of these names won’t end up in Portland, but it’ll be interesting to see if this more open narrative helps the Blazers in the long run. The argument for rumors suggests very little downside while actually helping a team curry favor with player agents who are trying to get their clients the best possible deal in the best possible situation.
And while there is no evidence that Cronin is somehow more active in wheeling and dealing than his predecessor, the increased scuttlebutt at least suggests that Portland is “actively” trying to get better, something that rarely eventuated under the previous administration.
There are actual assets in the bag
Regardless of whether Cronin has a more open view on sharing his discussions across the NBA universe, he has actually created a multitude of options for this franchise thanks to the tangible assets collected at February’s trade deadline.
As a result, these moves may have indirectly prompted pundits outside the organization to consider Portland as movers and shakers, inserting the team into possible deals based solely on the pieces they now have at their disposal.
The moves in question were decried by many a Portland fan at the time. In isolation, sure, the decision to part with CJ McCollum, Robert Covington, Norman Powell, Larry Nance Jr and Tony Snell, only to bring back Josh Hart, a future first round pick, a couple of seconds and some uninspiring names, could have been seen as a miserable return. But you can’t look at these deals in isolation. You have to look at what they end up bringing back, not necessarily this summer, but perhaps at the next trade deadline and the offseason after that.
The Blazers actually have the ability to clear enough space this offseason to make room for another max contract, hence the discussion surrounding the possibility of Beal and Lavine. But that’s probably not the most responsible approach Cronin could take as it would likely deprive the team of assets and tie up the majority of its salary in a couple of players, diminishing the ability to improve the roster down the line — sound familiar?
More realistically and thanks to those February deadline deals, Cronin can consider his options. The Blazers own a $20.8 million trade exception from the McCollum deal, a $6.5 million exception from the Covington and Powell deal and a $3.2 million exception collected in the Joe Ingles trade. They also likely lay claim to the full midlevel exception at $10.3 million and can actually use the $4.04 million biannual exception, which the former cash-strapped front office failed to use last year given their proximity to the luxury tax.
At the top of the pile of assets is the team’s own seventh pick on June 23’s draft. This combined with the Milwaukee Bucks 2025 first round pick and a bevy of second round picks including those from the Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans, the Blazers can now be inserted into conversations they were previously barred from.
These picks can be used or combined with other assets and players to bring back players of consequence. And so with this financial flexibility and asset accumulation combined with Damian Lillard’s presence on the roster, options are open to the Blazers that are likely closed off to 90 percent of their opponents.
Sure, some teams have cap space and picks but don’t have the pieces in place to have it make sense. While others have otherworldly talent but are hamstrung by a lack of cap space, owning none or only a few less attractive draft picks.
Don’t be surprised if rumors continue to pop up over the next few weeks as the Blazers prepare for the NBA Draft and then free agency late on June 30. Though some may disagree — vehemently in some cases — this is an exciting time to be a Portland fan.
While Cronin served under Olshey for the entirety of the former actor’s Portland tenure, the current front office boss appears to have different feelings and attitudes when it comes to the process of publicly and privately building a team to contend. Let’s just hope this perspective fast tracks the Blazers re-tool in time to still make use of the unique skillset Damian Lillard poses while he’s at the peak of his powers.