Hanging onto a play-in spot by a thread and with its superstar point guard on the bench until at least the beginning of March, the franchise would surely decide to go all-in on a long-awaited rebuild, right?
Apparently not. Instead, the latest Blazers rumors have Portland pushing all their chips in the opposite direction.
The Portland Trail Blazers have every reason to begin a rebuild
First, let’s start with the record: 18-26. That puts Portland in 10th place in the Western Conference standings, which would give the team the very last spot in the play-in tournament.
Second, let’s go to the injuries: Lillard, Portland’s franchise point guard, just had surgery and is expected to miss about two months.
Dame himself even admitted to ESPN it could be time to shut it down for the season.
“I’ve always been available to play, but I think the older you get, the more experience that you have, not just in sports but in life, it becomes more important to play chess,” he said. “My pride might say `Keep fighting it out, get the job done again. Try to get in the playoffs.’ And then the older me is saying ‘You can’t do none of that stuff if you’re not at your best.’”
By all accounts, it appears the 31-year-old floor leader — and the Lillard-McCollum backcourt — has taken the franchise as far as it can. Portland has advanced to the Western Conference Finals just once during Lillard’s tenure, in 2018-19.
They haven’t gotten out of the first round since.
But, reportedly, the Blazers aren’t ready to give up yet.
The Blazers are now rumored to be going after Jaylen Brown or Jerami Grant
Rather than trading away most, if not all, of its best assets, Portland appears to be zigging when everyone thought it would be zagging.
According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the Blazers are shooting for the stars rather than the basement. As Amick wrote:
“Longtime Trail Blazers executive Joe Cronin was elevated to the interim general manager role after Neil Olshey’s firing in early December. With Lillard’s future still uncertain, he needs to upgrade this roster to calm those waters. Sources say Detroit’s Jerami Grant and Boston’s Jaylen Brown are the types of talents that would achieve that goal, but it remains to be seen if Cronin can pull something like that off.”
Portland owns its own first-round pick in 2022 if it falls in the lottery. If not, it goes to Chicago. That in and of itself could be motivation to stay out of the playoffs.
After that pick conveys, though, the Blazers do have all their own first-rounders moving forward.
The franchise could also dangle the expiring contracts of Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington in trade talks. McCollum would presumably have value as well, even coming off an injury.
Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little are young players with upside who could be attractive to other teams.
Brown has repeatedly been deemed untouchable by Boston. Portland’s best package is likely not convincing the Celtics to part ways with one of their stars.
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the asking price for Grant has been set at two first-round picks or one first plus a young player with upside. The Blazers have the picks, and Simons would fit the bill as the “young player with upside.”
If Cronin wants to swing a deal there, it’s possible. The question is, why?
The franchise would be better off blowing it up and starting over
If the goal is to shoot for the playoffs — or at the very least convince Lillard to stay — isn’t trading away some of the team’s best assets counterproductive?
It would take everything the organization has outside of Dame to land Brown. Even then, it’s a long shot.
And is Grant really the answer? Will he get Portland to the playoffs? Or will Lillard look at a deal that sends away future assets for a player of that caliber and think, ‘Oh, now I’m for sure all-in’?
Plus — does either move make the Blazers actual championship contenders?
Trying to make a splash and add a win-now type of player to the roster is the wrong decision for Portland. Like, really, really wrong.
The organization needs to look in the mirror. There’s no scenario in which this team is making a run at a championship anytime soon.
Rip off the band-aid Joe Cronin. It’s time to tank.