It’s 2022, a new year, and the Portland Trail Blazers are in the same rut they were 2 years ago.
The Portland Trail Blazers rang in the new year with a thudding loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. They were beat 139 to 106, in a game where Damian Lillard went 5 – 15 from the floor and their leading scorer was Ben McLemore off the bench. Now, at first glance one could make the excuse that the Blazers were short-handed (and they were) with CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic all sitting, but that doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to why the Trailblazers are now the second worst team in the Western Conference. The Blazers have lost 4 in a row and 8 or their last 10 games and look to more than likely miss the playoffs as a whole, unless something can be turned around in the second half of the season.
The Blazers are truly at a crossroad. Many had that sentiment at the start of the season, with all of the talk regarding Damian Lillard possibly requesting a trade and the turmoil surrounding the front office, but this has been developing for a few years now. Once LaMarcus Aldridge left Portland years ago, it’s been a steady trend downhill for the blazers. Without Aldridge, the Blazers became a purely jump shooting team. There is virtually no one on the roster that Chauncey Billups can elect to throw the ball to in order to get an easy basket. It’s pretty much Dame/ CJ or bust. This isn’t a recipe for success. Not to mention their defense has been terrible for years, relegating them to a team that has one way to beat their opponent. Which is to let the 3s fly and outscore them until the last buzzer. A similar strategy that the Houston Rockets tried a few years back when James Harden arrived. The Rockets and Blazers are very similar in that respect.
Options Going Forward
Trade CJ McCollum
So what’s the solution? Trade CJ for Ben Simmons and keep Dame? Does anyone actually think that will result in a championship or even a deep playoff run? I know I don’t. While I like what Ben Simmons could bring to the Blazers, he is not the answer. His arrival would indeed improve their perimeter defense and give the Blazers another ball handler, but to what end? Unless Ben Simmons came to Portland and became an offensive threat along with using his passing ability to get the Blazers shooters more open looks, it seems like they would probably stay around the same position in the rankings as they are now. Ben would need to replace at least the majority of the 20 ppg that you lose by trading CJ, and also do it by getting in the paint, not by chucking more 3 point shots (which we know Ben is not going to do anyways). If Ben brings something like 10ppg, 8 assists and 2 steals, that is not going to get Portland over the hump. Not even close. And he is more likely to put up those type of numbers versus something like 17 -18ppg, 8 assists and 2 steals. So again, you’re relegated to being a jump shooting team with an extra perimeter defender.
Trade Damian Lillard
I know many people would scoff at the notion that Damian Lillard is the guy to trade, with him being arguably a top 5 player and definitely top 10. You’re probably not going to get the same value back if you trade him. So basically at that point, you’d be in a full on rebuild. Yes, you still have CJ McCollum, but you can’t build around him. He’s a good player, but not a franchise player. He is someone that is probably more suited to be your 2nd or 3rd offensive option on a good team. I think 3rd is probably what you’d want to be shooting for, unless your first option is someone who can score at a high level, in multiple ways (not primarily from the outside) and on a consistent basis. You could trade Dame for multiple players and picks, while keeping CJ and treading water until you ultimately decide to trade CJ too, but I don’t see the point in doing that. So to me, if you trade Dame…you trade CJ as well along with Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic and just go full rebuild mode. No need to waste time trying to put together a patchwork in hopes of sneaking into the playoffs. Especially in the Western Conference.
Trade Dame, CJ, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic
This is honestly the option that I would take. Aside from one season, the Blazers have been a team that is always a step or two below the real contenders. Even if they managed to grab the #1 spot in the west come playoff time, they’re that team that you still aren’t going to put your money on to win it all. They need an overhaul, like really bad. The only real piece that one could argue has the chance at being some kind of star is Anfernee Simons, and saying that is even kind of a stretch at this point. He seems like he has the potential to grow into a respectable backup point guard/ shooting guard and possibly a solid starter if he takes a leap or two in the next few seasons, but I don’t see him ever replacing Dame or even CJ for that matter as a bonifide All Star caliber player if one or both get traded. Aside from Simons, you have a mish-mash of guys who’s main value is allowing your starters to get a breather. So why not trade all of those guys (Dame, CJ, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic), play as hard as you can with the players that you have, and try and rebuild from the ground up? Dame is 31 and CJ is 30, so it’s not like these guys are going to have many years ahead to play at the level they are playing at now. Which means the longer you wait, the less you’d get for them in the trade market. We’ve had numerous season to assess whether they can be the 1-2 punch on a championship team, and I think it’s safe to say that answer is no at this point. So trade them for young players and picks (potentially multiple from Dame alone) and move on from this failed experiment. It’s no knock on Dame and CJ. I think both are terrific players, but maybe not terrific players when playing beside each other. They are far too similar and both live outside, sometimes taking difficult shots and not being very efficient while doing so.
It’s on the Blazers brass to come to some conclusion, hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s January 1st, 2022. The trade deadline is coming up fast. This is the perfect time to pull the trigger and start to right a ship that has been off course for far too long. We’ll see if they have the stomach to make the hard choices.