While the Portland Trail Blazers won’t be competing through May and June, the actions taken over the next few months will likely determine the franchise’s fate over next few years.
On May 16, the Blazers will eagerly by watching ping pong balls at the NBA Draft Lottery, which will dictate their success at June 22nd’s NBA Draft before free agency kicks off in July.
General Manager Joe Cronin spoke to media on Sunday, re-emphasising his drive to build a competitive roster around Damian Lillard and put the past two years in the rearview mirror.
Below we go through the state of the roster exiting the 2022-23 season and the likely futures of those that played a part over the past six dismal months.
First, we look at some of the key soundbites from Cronin and what he’s telling us about his ideal offseason.
“The goal is to get better as soon as possible.It’s time for us to start moving quicker towards having a roster that’s ready to compete at the highest level. So if that means using that pick (first round pick) or other picks in deals where it’s getting aggressive to go get stuff done, then yeah we’re open-minded to that.”
“I think if we can get out of this offseason with some key additions at some key positions throughout our rotation and if we leave August where we feel like we have nine-10 guys that can really play, I think we’re doing a good job.”
Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons.
“It’s something we have to look at, it’s a great problem to have. Their games are different but at the same time they place similar positions, both are more two than one or three.”
Trading draft picks.
“Can you get equal value (by trading draft picks)? It’s probably the most complicated thing we do. That’s where you just try and get out and work and really assess (a) know the draft backwards and have a good feel for these guys and (b) know what the market is.”
The need for more veteran talent.
“One of the things that we saw that caused us to lose a lot of ball games was our a lack of depth and I think a lot of that depth young guys who weren’t ready to contribute, to me that was the reckless part where we have seven or eight guys who are a big part of our rotation but as soon as one or two guys got hurt, we were relying on guys who weren’t ready to play yet. Moving forward we’re not going to be in let’s try to find a player mode or let’s try to develop a player on the current roster. We’re going be more in win-now mode where the roster is going to be much more veteran-laden.”
Jerami Grant’s free agency.
“I think foundationally we feel really solid, where the Trail Blazers organization loves Jerami Grant, really hopes that he’s a big part of our future and I think the feeling’s mutual. It seems like Jerami’s happy here, he loves his teammates, he loves his coach, he loves this city so usually when those things align, hopefully you can get a deal.”
Targeting needle movers.
“We have our target group, the guys that we really like that we think would be terrific fits here, many of whom we pursued last trade deadline, we just weren’t able to get anything done, obviously we’ll circle back to that group and add to it. Myself, Dame and Chauncey agree on players quite a bit. We have our favorites but our ability to get them, it’s not easy.”
“We have to start taking big steps forward to keep us all at peace. We don’t want to go through this anymore, it’s time for us to start winning basketball games. We want to put that pressure on ourselves and we want to go into the offseason with that mentality and mindset, not just for him (Damian Lillard) but for all of us. We don’t want to have another year like this year.”
- A top nine lottery pick (Portland)
- Pick 23 (New York Knicks)
- Seven future second round picks.
- Next non-lottery Blazers first to convey to the Chicago Bulls until 2028
- $8.3 million trade exception (Golden State Warriors)
- $2.6 million trade exception (Knicks)
The next Portland pick landing outside the lottery goes to the Chicago Bulls, compromising any trades the team want to execute by sending out future picks in the short term. The Blazers may be able to wrest back control of said draft assets by doing a deal with the Bulls this summer but it takes two to tango.
The two trade exceptions can be used until next February and may come in handy over the next few months as the likely above-the-cap Blazers work to add talent.
They’re not going anywhere.
Damian Lillard ($45.5 million)
It’s pretty straightforward. As long as Damian Lillard wants to be in Portland, the franchise isn’t moving him. As seen above, Cronin is building a team around Lillard and and as we saw last season, there are no immediate signs that the seven-time All Star is slowing down, despite turning 33 in July.
22-23 numbers: 58 games, 32.2 points, 37% from three, 4.8 boards, 7.3 assists, 0.9 steals
Shaedon Sharpe ($6.3 million)
It’s not often a second-year player gets the untouchable treatment but given his talent, athleticism and the size of his deal, it’s going to be hard to bring back a difference maker with as much potential as the young Canadian.
His youth, contract and potential make him a more likely candidate to stay compared to Simons who (as we discuss below) is a good chance to be playing elsewhere next season.
As we saw through the final days of the regular season, Sharpe has the potential to line up as a starter next season but let’s see how he prepares himself over the offseason, Summer League and camp.
22-23 numbers: 80 games, 9.9 points, 36% from three, 3.0 boards, 1,2 assists, 0.5 steals
Decent trade pieces
Key assets that could help bring back a big piece.
Anfernee Simons ($24.1 million)
The Blazers’ biggest and best trade piece. As mentioned above, Simons and Sharpe together on the same roster may prove to be redundant moving forward. And of the two it’s almost certain that Simons will be the odd man out.
While many bemoan his lack of defense, Simons will no doubt be a sought-after addition to a large portion of the other 29 franchises. He’s ability to create for himself and others while hitting three ball at an impressive rate, all on a team-friendly deal (yes, $25 million a year is team friendly) will likely have Cronin’s phone ringing off the hook.
22-23 numbers: 62 games, 21.1 points, 37% from three, 2.6 boards, 4.1 assists, 0.7 steals
Nassir Little ($6.2 million)
Despite struggles getting his body right, Little is a young wing with size, athleticism and most recently a reliable long-range shot. His extremely team-friendly deal will no doubt be attractive to other teams hoping to get the former North Carolina product fit and consistently on the court. I’d love to see him make that next step in a Portland jersey but this team needs to get better and fast and something’s got to give.
22-23 numbers: 54 games, 6.6 points, 36% from three, 2.6 boards, 0.9 assists
Helping to match salary.
Jusuf Nurkic ($16.9 million)
I hate that it’s come to this for the big Bosnian. His initial arrival in Portland six years ago was one of the more enjoyable periods in recent Blazers history. Unfortunately, injury and periods of astonishingly bad play have made him more salary-matching ballast than a positive trade asset.
He’s not necessarily a negative asset but with season rankings among centers of 43rd percentile in points per shot attempt, 27th percentile in free throw percentage, 41st percentile in effective field goal percentage, it’s not too inspiring. He was also 22nd percentile for percentage at the rim, 52nd percentile in block percentage and 32nd percentile when avoiding foul trouble.
There’s always a chance he resurrects his form in different colors and you only need one team to be enticed.
22-23 numbers: 52 games, 13.3 points, 36% from three, 9.1 boards, 2.9 assists, 0.8 blocks
The Blazers still have to re-sign them, if they want.
Jerami Grant (Unrestricted)
It’s likely he returns but estimates have his salary at $30 million a year. If it is $30 million a year, fine. He’s earned it through effective two-way play, doing what the team needs from him. On a contending team, Grant is a third banana, however this team is still looking for a number two. His no-dip long-range catch and shoot style was particularly enjoyable to watch.
22-23 numbers: 63 games, 20.5 points, 40% from three, 4.5 boards, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals
Justise Winslow (Unrestricted)
Given his ongoing injury struggles, I’d be fine for him coming back but for no more than the veteran minimum. I’m a big Winslow fan and if he’s fit and on an affordable deal then he’s an effective player on both ends of the ball, especially if he can figure things out from three. Important to note, the Blazers own Early Bird Rights on Winslow, which are relatively limited comparted to the Full Bird avenue.
22-23 numbers: 29 games, 6.8 points, 31% from three, 5.0 boards, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals
Matisse Thybulle (Restricted) ($6.3 million Qualifying Offer)
We spoke about my Australian compatriot last week. He’s restricted and if he comes back on a deal below the $10-million-a-year mark, we should all be smiling. Thybulle is a defensive ace and a necessity on this defensively challenged Blazers roster.
22-23 numbers: 22 games, 7.4 points, 39% from three, 3.5 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.7 steals
Cam Reddish (Restricted) ($7.7 million Qualifying Offer)
He most likely comes back. Not sure Reddish will be a key part of the rotation though. If he’s not happy sitting on the bench it might be time for another team to try and rejuvenate the still-young wing with potential and versatility there.
22-23 numbers: 20 games, 11.0 points, 32% from three, 2.9 boards, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals
Drew Eubanks (Veteran minimum)
Sure, bring him back on the same deal but Portland’s own Eubanks shouldn’t be playing a lot of rotation minutes.
22-23 numbers: 78 games, 6.6 points, 5.4 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks
Interesting young pieces who may be used in trades. But as we heard from Cronin last week, don’t be surprised if some are moved on for more veteran bodies.
Kevin Knox II ($3 million Team Option)
I almost put Knox II in the trade filler section, but the size of the contract prohibits this. He showed glimpses through the last two weeks of the season. But don’t expect big minutes and don’t be surprised if his $3 million salary is part of a deal involving others if Cronin needs just a little bit more to match salary.
22-23 numbers: 21 games, 8.5 points, 31% from three, 3.3boards, 0.9 assists
Trendon Watford ($1.8 million)
Watford is an NBA player and has shown a unique skillset, able to handle the ball from the power forward position to go with a nice little floater. Wouldn’t be surprised if he was considered a sweetener in a deal alongside the likes of Simons and/or Little.
22-23 numbers: 62 games, 7.4 points, 39% from three, 3.8 boards, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals
Jabari Walker ($1.7 million)
Likely still on the team unless there’s another franchise willing to give up something for the young forward.
22-23 numbers: 56 games, 3.9 points, 28% from three, 2.3 boards, 0.6 assists
Keon Johnson ($2.8 million Team Option)
Like Knox II, could be inserted into a deal to get salary up and/or, like Walker, another team is enticed by his potential. Played out of position at the point some of the season. The 21-year-old is more a shooting guard.
22-23 numbers: 40 games, 4.7 points, 34% from three, 1.5 boards, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals
The bodies that helped the Blazers finish games in March and April.
He almost certainly gets another NBA contract. Personally, I’d be fine with him as a third string point guard in Portland, able to run the offense if Lillard and co. go down for smaller periods of time.
22-23 numbers: 6 games, 15.3 points, 46% from three, 3.2 boards, 1.4 assists
Probably not in Portland, but he does have a little more length while not being an awful shooter. Disregard the below three-point number, too small a sample size.
22-23 numbers: 4 games, 4.3 points, 25% from three, 3.8 boards, 1.0 assists, 1.3 blocks
Jeenathan Williams Jr. (non-guaranteed in 2023-24)
Maybe. Unlike some of these other guys, he actually has a non-guaranteed deal for next season.
22-23 numbers: 5 games, 10.6 points, 37% from three, 3.0 boards, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals
Probably not, the Blazers already have John Butler Jr. and Ibou Badji on two-ways.
22-23 numbers: 1 game, 7.0 points, 3.0 boards, 1.0 blocks
The two young big men who probably get another go.
John Butler Jr.
Showed some nice things late in the season. A perfect player for the two-way slot giving him time to develop, establish if the Blazers can snag their own G-League franchise. Probably needs to acquaint himself with the weight room but his 7’0 measurement is intriguing.
22-23 numbers: 19 games, 2.4 points, 23% from three, 0.9 boards, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals
The young big has the potential to be a defensive behemoth at the pivot. He’s got a long way to go though given he didn’t make it onto the court.
As Cronin acknowledged last week, he has a lot of work to do to build a lottery team into a contender in just three months. I know I’m not the only one waiting eagerly to see what he can pull but I’m also preparing myself for the worst if that franchise-changing deal never eventuates.
I want to see Damian Lillard contend in Portland, it’s all I’ve wanted since I first got to see him play in a Blazers jersey 11 years ago. Whether that happens rests majorly on what the roster looks like on opening night in October.