The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2023 NBA postseason hopes are days away from being buried. At 32-43, the Blazers are five games back from the No. 10 and final play-in seed and going 1-9 in their last 10 games has shut the door on any hope for a shorter vacation.
The offseason is right around the corner, and Portland has cemented themselves as a lottery team. What other moves must they make around Damian Lillard to keep the All-Star guard and contend for a championship? Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report says:
“Assuming the Blazers keep Grant, they must also prioritize retaining deadline acquisition Matisse Thybulle, perhaps the most disruptive wing defender in the league. From there, the focus should turn to the center spot, where Jusuf Nurkić’s declining mobility contributes to the team’s struggles on D,” Hughes accentuated.
“The 28-year-old is under contract through 2025-26 at a reasonable rate, which may make him a palatable trade option for the right team. Even if Nurkić sticks around, Portland has to look high and low for the type of player unrestricted free agent Justise Winslow was supposed to be—a smart, multi-position defensive piece who can slide into a small-ball 5 role against the right opponents.”
A center and defensive supplementary pieces are the undeniable priorities for Blazers general manager Joe Cronin heading into the summer. Cutthroat and all, Lillard and Jerami Grant should be looked at as the only players on the 15-man roster that are untouchable. Everyone else may need to move to complete an effective roster haul.
Lillard has shown that his game ages like fine wine and he can still carry the offense nightly. Grant is as efficient as ever from the three-point line and his 6-8 frame makes him a versatile three-position player with great defensive abilities.
Moving forward, players to keep an eye on include Clint Capela (Atlanta Hawks), Jaxson Hayes (New Orleans Pelicans), and James Wiseman (Detroit Pistons) at center. All three stand 7-feet or taller, possess standout rim protection abilities and can give Lillard variety as lob threats in the pick-and-roll. All have either fallen in their respective rotations or have players behind them due for a promotion.
Sacrificing scoring from players like Anfernee Simons could be used to acquire longer wing talent with foreseen potential the likes of Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans) and Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls) — two 6-8 forwards that shoot over 40 percent from the three-point line, 46 percent or better from the field and produce roughly one steal per game.
Murphy III in particular is one of the better deadeye shooters in the NBA and proved he can attack the basket as well as stroke the outside shot given his 2023 Dunk Contest performance. A promotion to third option may seem premature, but his 16.5 points per game per 36 minutes complement natural defensive instincts and a killer mentality.