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Impact of Damian Lillard injury news on the Portland Trail Blazers’ season

Vincent Frank

Even with star guard Damian Lillard in the mix for the majority of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers have been a pretty bad basketball team.

Portland currently sits at 16-24 about midway through the season and as the 10th seed in the Western Conference. The team fired general manager Neil Olshey and is apparently in sell-off mode ahead of the February 10 NBA trade deadline.

News coming out of the Pacific Northwest Wednesday evening might add another layer to this. Multiple media reports indicate that Damian Lillard will undergo abdominal surgery on Thursday and is out indefinitely.

Dame has missed Portland’s past five games due to the injury. He had returned for a nine-game stretch late in December after missing another five games prior to that with said injury. Needless to say, this has been a lingering issue for the six-time All-Star.

It will also have wide-ranging ramifications for Portland with less than a month to go before the aforementioned trade deadline. Here’s a look at these ramifications.

Related: Sportsnaut’s updated NBA trade rumors

Damian Lillard injury should lead to full fire sale for the Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard injury, Portland Trail Blazers
Feb 11, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) dribbles the ball as Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons (25) defends during the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As of right now, odds are that Portland will have a top-10 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. If the selection falls outside of the top-14, it lands in the hands of the Chicago Bulls. Simply put, there’s really no importance that has to be placed on winning moving forward this season.

At least long-term, Portland would benefit big time from tanking. It could land the team a top-four pick in what is seemingly a top-heavy draft class. Said pick could either expedite the retooling process in Portland or be used as capital to help land Dame another star.

Whether it’s interim general manager Joe Cronin or someone else calling the shots in Portland, this asset would be absolutely huge.

Related: Find out where Damian Lillard ranks among NBA players

Portland Trail Blazers trade bait

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trailblazers at Los Angeles Lakers
Aug 29, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) celebrates with center Jusuf Nurkic (27) during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in game five of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was noted earlier in the season that Cronin had put everyone outside of Damian Lillard on the trade block. That must now be seen as a realistic scenario given the team’s struggles and Dame’s injury news.

Outside of stud young guard Anfernee Simons, the Blazers should listen on pretty much everyone. That includes Robert Covington, Larry Nance Jr., C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell and Jusuf Nurkic. These are valuable role players who could net the Blazers multiple young players and first-round picks in return.

Out of the five, McCollum and Nurkic probably represent the best value in terms of what the Blazers could bring back in return.

Related: Sportsnaut’s updated NBA power rankings

Time for Anfernee Simons to shine with the Portland Trail Blazers

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Portland Trail Blazers
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In the absence of Dame over the past couple weeks, Simons has been absolutely special for the Blazers. Despite the rightful criticism of the aforementioned Neil Olshey, he was right in not including Simons in trade talks since Portland made him a first-round pick back in 2018. The dude has a chance to be special.

Anfernee Simons stats (past five games): 27.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 7.6 APG, 51% shooting, 45% three-point

It’s not a coincidence that these performances have come with Damian Lillard sidelined. Moving forward on the season, the focal point in Portland has to be Simons’ usage. He must continue to see 37 minutes per game and take on the lead-scoring role. Monday night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets is a prime example of this.

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