With the 2022-23 NBA season fast approaching (only four more weeks!), NBA.com has been readying fanbases with its “30 Teams in 30 Days” preview series. In the recent Portland Trail Blazers preview, writer Shaun Powell gave Portland general manager Joe Cronin approving nods for his effort to “retool” the roster around superstar Damian Lillard.
Faced with a crossroads last season, the Blazers doubled down on their 32-year-old franchise centerpiece of 10 seasons, despite shipping out his running mate CJ McCollum. Whether it was due to cold, hard analysis or emotion, Portland gave Lillard a massive contract extension and are attempting to reshape the roster around his talents again.
The Blazers extended Lillard’s contract by two years and a staggering $122 million this summer when there was no urgency to do so. Lillard, after all, wasn’t approaching free agency. With this extension, he’ll earn $63 million when he turns 36. First: Congrats to Lillard, a stand-up guy and ideal face for the franchise. Second: Portland either ignored all trade packages for Lillard — he surely would’ve fetched young players and first-round picks — or was too emotionally tied to him and didn’t seek any.
Whether or not the Lillard bet pays off, Powell was complimentary of Cronin’s work so far and his boldness at last February’s trade deadline. He gave kudos to the additions of Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and Justise Winslow— though, he mistakenly wrote Portland brought in Larry Nance Jr. last February — but he especially liked the Jerami Grant trade.
Cronin certainly isn’t bashful as he pulled the trigger on McCollum last spring and brought in Josh Hart, Larry Nance and Justise Winslow, three serviceable rotational players. This summer, he made two more decisions that seem worthy of applause: Signing Payton and acquiring Grant.
Grant’s skill-set fits today’s game — long and athletic with good defensive instincts and a fairly reliable 3-point shot. After serving as mostly an athletic wing and defensive stopper in his first five NBA seasons, he blossomed into a go-to scorer and more reliable 3-point shooter with the Detroit Pistons (20.9 ppg, 35.3% on 3-pointers in his last two seasons).
Powell may give Portland his most glowing endorsement in the article’s headline: “Blazers Align Long-Term Help Beside Cornerstone Damian Lillard.” However, as Powell notes, Grant will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Hart will also likely need a new contract. After this season, he has a player-option that’s too cheap for his talents. So as it stands right now, it’s unclear just how “long-term” some of Portland’s newfound help will be.
Cronin has made some solid moves, but important decisions loom in the near-future.