The forecast calls for a rough season ahead for the Portland Trail Blazers. Losing Damian Lillard will impact their ability to win. It’ll also remove the single greatest reason to watch the team, at least as currently constructed. Blazers fans are probably going to have to cast eyes upon a future horizon when the on-court product becomes hard to bear.
But will it really be that bad? One reader wants to know in this Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question.
I hear all the talk about the Blazers being in a rebuild mode, but are we? I for one would have been happy if Dame was a Blazer for life - even if it meant no championship. He was great for the team, organization, and community. But his salary alone kept our hands tied. If we trade him for a couple role players in positions of need we can go into the 2023-2024 season with a solid starting five in Scoot, Ant, Thybulle, Grant and Nurk... and, oh yeah, around $50 million to see what we need come trade deadlines. We seemed to flourish when Dame was out earlier in the season - with Ant and Grant playing free and no longer having to cater to Dame’s style of play.
Maybe I am crazy (which off seasons often bring out) but Dame being the one to request a trade is probably the best thing to happen for us... and it shouldn’t automatically mean we are in rebuild mode.
Well, hmmmm... Your point guard is a rookie. Your shooting guard position is populated by a stellar athlete with one year of high-level organized ball to his name and a 24-year-old who used to be that guy but who now looks like a wise, old grandpa by comparison. Unless something changes, that trio will do 80% of the ball-handling and decision-making this season.
You have a veteran center who’s likely to be traded, but your veteran power forward will probably stay. Around them you have a collection of players 25-and-under who haven’t proven themselves yet. Plus Matisse Thybulle.
When you trade your superstar, the main assets coming back are likely to be draft picks. Failing that, everyone is pretty exciting about a mid-draft rookie and an international player with little NBA experience.
Buddy, you’re in rebuild mode.
Outside of Jerami Grant (should the Blazers keep him) we can’t guarantee one thing remains consistent—either with the roster or internal player development—between this year and next. The Blazers have more variables than an Algebra II textbook. That’s pretty rebuild-ish too.
Contrary to your suggestions, the self-discovery process will probably keep them from making moves with their mid-level exception or trades for veterans this year. Portland’s ability to maneuver will remain modest for a bit as they clear out cap obligations and draft picks owed. Until the future becomes more defined and resources more plentiful, I don’t expect them to make big splashes outside of the draft and whatever they pull in directly from a Lillard trade.
As for Lillard asking out being “the best thing to happen” for the Blazers, you’d need to argue with the organization about that one. They have publicly stated that they’d prefer to keep him. I get what you’re saying. It just may be overstated a bit. The Blazers can grow beyond Dame, but they’re definitely better off with him than they’ll be without him, at least right now. The story may be different in 2027, but that’s not here yet.
As the 2015-16 squad taught us, “rebuilding” doesn’t have to mean “awful”. After LaMarcus Aldridge departed for the San Antonio Spurs, national pundits predicted few wins for Portand. They’re doing the same this season. The Blazers exceeded expectations eight years ago. If things hit right, Portland could do it again, maybe sneaking into the Play-In. It’s not impossible.
That doesn’t mean they’ll be ready to contend, though, nor that they can duplicate the feat the year after. They need a couple seasons, minimum, to solidify their infrastructure and get experience.
In the meantime, don’t let anybody tell you the Blazers will suck, at least not automatically. Their variance will be high. Predictions anywhere between 20 and 40 wins could be correct! But the upper band does exist.
As you’ve pointed out, Portland has talent. They’re just not going to be able to put it all together. There’s not enough “all” to assemble yet. That said, if you’d like to term them “building” instead of “rebuilding”, I think you could get away with it. It sounds a little better and, who knows? It might even be accurate.
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