The Portland Trail Blazers went headfirst into a roster rebuild after trading longtime guard CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans. The franchise is sending a crystal-clear signal to star point guard Damian Lillard that the front office will reshape the roster around him. However, the Blazers’ significant moves before Thursday’s deadline diminish the Los Angeles Lakers‘ hopes of acquiring the six-time All-Star.
The Lakers are stuck dealing with the disappointing truth regarding their offseason mistake each time Russell Westbrook takes the floor. He’s become an unmovable asset the team will have to keep through the rest of the 2021-22 campaign.
All that forces Los Angeles to face the reality that any scenario of landing Lillard is a pipe dream.
Blazers are embracing a roster rebuild around Damian Lillard
As the Trail Blazers limp through the 2021-22 campaign, the franchise became sellers before Thursday’s trade deadline.
Portland began the drastic shift by first moving Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and a 2025 second-round pick. The immediate reaction generated the strong belief that the Clippers fleeced the Blazers.
The transaction took Powell’s massive five-year, $90 million off Portland’s books while Covington was in the final year of his contract making $12.9 million. The Blazers followed it up by finally pulling the trigger on trading CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell to the Pelicans in exchange for Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, along with a protected 2022 first-round pick, and two second-round selections.
The first-round pick is protected between No. 5 to 14 spots, and if it doesn’t convey, it moves further down the line for the Blazers. Beyond that, the trade puts Portland in the position to build the entire roster around Lillard. The team created a $20.8 million trade exception in the McCollum deal and could have up to $60 million in salary-cap space this upcoming summer, along with the increased number of draft picks.
Blazers are crushing the Lakers’ dream of landing Damian Lillard
The Blazers’ shocking moves send a ripple effect across the league.
The Lakers are one of the team’s significantly affected due to the lingering interest in acquiring the star point guard. Those internal desires have only increased after what Russell Westbrook has showcased in his first campaign in Los Angeles.
Beyond becoming stuck with Westbrook, the door is closing fast on any chance Lillard becomes available. The Blazers’ star point guard is in the first year of his four-year, $176.2 million deal that runs through the 2024-25 campaign.
Meanwhile, Lillard hasn’t wavered in his loyalty to the franchise, even after meeting with LeBron James and Anthony Davis last offseason. His sentiment certainly won’t change now that the team is making the concerted effort to construct the roster to his liking, essentially giving him the same power that James has in Los Angeles.
Unless Lillard drastically changes course, the Lakers can only move forward, scratching his name off the list of potential targets.
Lakers must start planning future beyond 2022-23 season
If the Lakers didn’t already anticipate it, they will have to make do with their roster after the trade deadline.
Westbrook’s departure may inevitably arrive after the 2022-23 campaign, but he holds the opportunity to prove he can become the pivotal piece to a championship. However, the Lakers should begin mapping out upcoming roster changes as LeBron James will be in his contract’s final year.
General manager Rob Pelinka wants to make the most of James’ remaining tenure, setting the table for a busy summer. Those efforts will have to start with unloading Westbrook if he picks up his $47 million player option. Meanwhile, the rest of the roster under contracts outside of James and Davis are moveable assets.
The 2022-23 campaign remains an unfinished journey, but the Lakers must start looking ahead.
Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.