A Failed Experiment: The Portland Trail Blazers

Updated: September 18, 2021

Instead of slowly mapping out the odds and playoff predictions for the Blazers, a single fact can sum up the totality of their future. There hasn’t been a single analyst on any of the major podcasts this offseason that even has Dame Lillard and CJ as their Blackhorse to come out of the West, let alone as a true contender. A team that frequently exceeds expectations in the regular season and even in first-round upsets has one of the clearest and most unanimous ceilings across the league. In years past, there were always a few outliers who stilled believed this undersized backcourt could win a title, but these disciples have become few and far between.

This entire offseason, the narrative surrounding Portland has been the looming trade request and the rumors of Dame-Time migrating to the East Coast or the Bay. The Blazer’s front office has done everything in their power to accommodate Lillard and his needs in hopes to retain the face of their franchise…that is everything except creating a winning roster. As one scrolls slowly down the depth chart past the two max contracts, the potential for the Blazer’s post-season hopes is downright depressing. They have a stack of decent players and a dire drought of above-average talent. Even in a dream scenario if the Lakers were hampered by injuries, Klay Thompson came back a shell of himself, and Murray’s rehab was pushed back into next offseason, it is extremely unlikely they have the firepower or defensive to get out of West and improbable they could ever take out the team that makes it out of the East.

Instead of living in fear and dread of losing the only player on their roster with All-NBA talent, Portland should be optimistic about the soft-rebuild they have available. With every passing day, the thirst of the Philadelphia 76ers grows. The package that Damian Lillard could produce would put the Harden package to shame…and yet, their attachment to their “loyal” star has blinded their ability to see the forest for the trees. With little chance of ever sniffing a title, the opportunity of a rebuild should be welcomed with open arms. Not only would they get a huge return for Lillard, but they also have several pieces that could be traded at the deadline for a premium to contenders looking for last-minute upgrades before heading into the playoffs.

The delusion that a CJ McCollum trade is going to bring back the missing puzzle piece in the title equation for Portland should’ve been abandoned two seasons ago when the market clearly identified his perceived on-court value in relation to his 30 million dollar contract as non-desirable. They have no young rookie contracts that anyone around the league is ready to overpay for and all their mid-level contracts are solid players, yet it is hard to imagine them being packaged into a star.

It was understandable a couple of years ago when they were swept in the 1st round by the KD-Curry Warriors. There was almost this acceptance that the legacy of Lillard and his Portland Trail Blazers could be respectable despite never getting to finals because of this unfair juggernaut that was created inorganically in Golden State. Similiar to all those ringless 90’s Hall a Famer’s who missed out in the Jordan era. However, the 2019 Western Conference Final’s sweep, with KD watching on the sidelines, and the Warriors absolutely hobbled should have forced ownership to step in and light the fuse for a blowup of the roster. Up until that series, there were some logical arguments around the discussion that the gap between the two backcourts was not as big as popular consensus made it out to be. That series proved exactly the opposite…that the Klay-Curry tandem was historic and the CJ-Dame duo was good, not great.

Philosophically what makes this conversation so interesting is that the ideological problem is not isolated in Portland but can be seen in several locations around the league. A similar article could be written about the Washington Wizards and Brad Beal, except the expectations of even their regular-season success would be significantly diminished. The Chicago Bulls have spent all of their draft capital on a Zach LaVine roster and yet it is unlikely the Bulls will ever achieve the success that Portland has the last 4 years even without mortgaging their entire stock of draft picks.

There has never been a better time in NBA history to sell a star on the market for rebuilding pieces. Portland, Chicago, and Washington should and would never need to take a sub-par offer for their tier 1 guards, instead, by making them openly available they can wait for the franchise who is willing to overpay for their production. The problem with waiting is the minute 1 of these guards becomes available, that franchise that is willing to overpay will jump on the opportunity, and the best rebuilding trade package available will evaporate.

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