The Portland Trail Blazers are a hot mess. They sit at 11-14 on the season and have lost six of seven. Portland boasts the worst defense in the NBA and just recently fired its general manager.
The backdrop here is a star guard in Damian Lillard who would love to continue in the Pacific Northwest, but might be out of opportunities.
It’s led to speculation that Portland should start anew with a rebuild. We’re here to conclude that should happen sooner rather than later. Here’s why.
The Damian Lillard contract dilemma
After an off-season filled with drama between Dame and the Blazers, it’s being reported that the All-Star guard wants to be extended this coming summer. That could very well be a quagmire for a new general manager, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Among several top-level GM candidates who fit the profile of Portland’s applicant pool, there’s no enthusiasm to grant Lillard his massive extension contract through the 2026-27 season. In fact, several executives told ESPN they would be far more interested in the Blazers job with ownership’s blessing to move Lillard sooner than later,” the NBA insider reported.
Lillard, 31, is currently playing under a four-year, $176.27 million extension he signed with Portland back in 2019. Said deal includes a player option for the 2024-25 campaign. If he were to get the extension, it’d pay the guard a combined $106.5 million in 2025-26 and 2026-27, tying him to Portland well past his prime.
That’s the issue here. Right now, interim general manager Joe Cronin is calling the shots. However, he’s not in a position to even discuss extensions with Lillard’s camp unless he becomes the full-time replacement for Neil Olshey.
As important as Lillard has been to the Blazers’ organization, any new general manager without a built-in relationship is more than likely to move fast in terms of a rebuild — looking to trade Lillard as one of his/her first moves. Yeah, this contract situation is problematic for the fledgling Blazers.
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Portland Trail Blazers need full-time GM, STAT
That leads us to our next important point. Cronin is not in a position to make a franchise-altering trade while he still exists under the interim label. With the Portland Trail Blazers over the past 15 years, he was just promoted to assistant general manager months before Olshey’s firing.
Pending the investigation into workplace misconduct allegations against the Blazers’ front office, the organization should do everything possible to retain Cronin in a full-time capacity. This would enable Portland to be proactive at the NBA trade deadline, and potentially even take advantage of a desperate team in Lillard trade talks.
Even if the Blazers look outside of their organization (a likelihood), it remains pontless to wait until the summer to hire a new general manager. There’s moves to be made over the next couple months — moves that can’t be made with an interim GM calling the shots.
Portland Trail Blazers still have trade assets
If Cronin or another general manager were to put Damian Lillard on the trade block, the guard would net an absolutely massive haul. In terms of compensation it would outpace what the Houston Rockets received for James Harden early in the 2020-21 season.
We’re looking at a minimum of three first-round picks, pick swaps and a couple young players in return for the future Hall of Famer. A pure hypothetical here, but we wouldn’t put it past Philadelphia 76ers front office head Daryl Morey from offering up four first-round picks and a youngster like Tyrese Maxey as centerpieces in a potential deal. He’s already reportedly made a strong offer to Portland for Dame.
Sure C.J. McCollum has struggled recently, but he provides the three-point shooting ability that contending teams covet. There’s no reason to believe the Blazers wouldn’t be able to net two first-round picks and a youngster for the veteran guard.
This doesn’t even take into the account the presences of Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic and Larry Nance Jr. as players with plus trade value.
We’re not saying the Portland Trail Blazers should blow it up by moving all of these players ahead of the NBA trade deadline. That’d be foolish. In fact, the market would likely grow larger for the bigger-name players such as Lillard and McCollum during the summer.
Even then, there’s no reason to sit idly by with some false hope of playoff contention. Powell, Covington, Nurkic and Nance Jr. are all closer to 30 and don’t fit into long-term rebuild plans. They’re also unlikely to help the struggling Blazers somehow return to playoff contention moving forward on the season.
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It isn’t happening in the Western Conference for these Portland Trail Blazers
Four first-round playoff exits in five years. A general manager fired after some serious allegations. An owner that might not be in it for the long-haul. A roster that has under-performed expectations and doesn’t figure to turn things around. Two stars in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum who are currently sidelined to injury.
The shorter version? These Blazers are closer to bottom-feeding status in the Western Conference than returning to postseason action. An 11-14 record this season with coming games against the Warriors, Suns, Grizzlies (twice) and Hornets only adds another layer to this.
Cut the bait. End the charade. Regardless of the Lillard situation, it’s time for these Blazers to move on to the future. If that means upsetting their all-time great guard, so be it. The window hasn’t just closed, it’s crashed down on the foot of the powers that be in the Pacific Northwest and there’s no turning back.