First, it was a trade that sent Robert Covington and Normal Powell to the Los Angeles Clippers, and now the Portland Trail Blazers have dealt longtime Damian Lillard running mate CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Blazers are tearing down their roster in favor of cap space and draft picks. That gives the franchise options moving forward over the next few seasons.
It also means it’s officially Dame Time now as Portland has the ability to reshape the roster in whichever way it wants — or, perhaps more likely, whichever way Lillard wants.
The Portland Trail Blazers sent CJ McCollum to New Orleans in another roster-clearing move
According to ESPN, Portland has traded McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell to the Pelicans in exchange for Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a protected 2022 first-round pick, and two second-round picks.
The first-rounder the Blazers are receiving in the deal conveys this year if it falls anywhere between picks 5 and 14. Otherwise, it becomes a future first.
For the Pelicans, it means bringing in a proven scoring guard that can not only push the team toward a playoff berth in the short term but also gives Zion Williamson another pseudo-star — along with Brandon Ingram — and a potential reason to remain with the franchise.
For Portland, though, it means only one thing.
The Blazers are officially handing the keys over to Damian Lillard
As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski laid out, the Trail Blazers are officially putting the franchise in Lillard’s hands.
After clearing the five years and $90 million of Powell’s contract and now the three years and $100 million still owed to McCollum, Portland can free up approximately $60 million in cap space.
The Blazers also now have a $21 million trade exception to play with, along with a much-improved stock of draft picks. Center Jusuf Nurkic is on an expiring contract and playing well — the team could look to deal him before the deadline as well.
Upon first glance, it may seem like a complete tear down of the roster. In the short term, it is. But the Blazers have no intention of kicking off a full-fledged rebuild.
The draft picks and trade exception are assets to use if the franchise wants to go the trade route and take a run at a major star to pair with Dame. Guard Anfernee Simons has played his way into being a core member of the roster, but Portland also has high-upside young talent like Keon Johnson and Nassir Little to add to a possible trade package.
The cap space allows the team to sign any free agent on the market, and Lillard certainly has the star pull to attract high-level talent.
Dame will have a major hand in rebuilding the Trail Blazers roster. And Portland has now gone from a guard-oriented, stagnated team to one with the chance to take a rebuild in any direction it wants.
Lillard now has the chance to write the second chapter of his NBA career
In his nine years in the NBA, Dame has made one conference finals appearance. That came in 2019 when the Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors.
Since then, despite Lillard’s individual heroics, his team hasn’t made it out of the first round. That’s been the case three other times over the course of the six-time All-NBA guard’s career.
The backcourt of Dame and CJ ran its course. As it was constructed, the Blazers roster, in general, had maxed out. It was time for a fresh start.
Presumably, that was going to come via full tank and rebuild. Now, however, it looks like it will be more of a retooling, and it will be helmed by the franchise’s centerpiece and constructed in his image.
All contract deals courtesy of Spotrac.