This is part 2 of my series of helping NBA teams get out of the dreaded middle ground between title contention and rebuilding. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Portland Trail Blazers are currently sitting outside of the playoff picture. Based on how they do in Orlando, they could squeak in as an 8 seed. Regardless, their team is far from truly contending for a title.
The Blazers have a few key moves they need to make in order to improve to the next tier:
- Find a more suitable backcourt partner for Lillard
- Acquire versatile forwards to fill the wings
- Draft a solid bench
Trade 1: CJ McCollum to the New Orlean Pelicans for Jrue Holiday
The core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball is the Pelicans’ future. As a better shooter, CJ McCollum fits in next to those guys better. Defensively, the Pelicans are already elite, so CJ’s shortcomings won’t be as pronounced. For the Blazers, Jrue Holiday is an elite defender, which pairs better next to Damian Lillard.
This updated Trail Blazers backcourt looks more promising.
Free Agent Move 1: Sign Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap is a versatile player. This past season, he’s shot 44% from the three-point line, and as a defender, he can guard multiple positions, and even potentially work a small ball 5 depending on who they play. The Trail Blazers should be willing to overpay him to convince him to play for them, as Dame’s prime years are right now.
The Nuggets, who will likely also have to pay Jerami Grant, will choose him, who is younger and offers more upside.
Free Agent Move 2: Pursue Mo Harkless and/or DeMarcus Cousins with Mid Level Exception
The Blazers will likely have the full mid-level exception, and they should use it to pursue two players: Mo Harkless and DeMarcus Cousins. Mo Harkless was previously part of the Blazers, and he played his role as a 3-and-D player well, proving to be a useful bench piece for them.
DeMarcus is a bit trickier. Currently a free agent, Cousins may be willing to prove himself, and the Blazers signing Carmelo show that they are willing to go after a veteran looking to show what he still has left in the tank.
Draft Pick: 14th Pick
The Trail Blazers, if the season ended right now, would have the last pick of the lottery in the draft. At this pick, the Blazers should simply choose the best player that fits a need on their bench.
For example, if they are unable to sign Cousins or any big in free agency, and choose not to resign Whiteside (which they may not be able to afford), they could trade down and target a more traditional big man like Vernon Carey Jr. or Isaiah Stewart.
If they can’t sign Mo Harkless or Paul Millsap and want to build their wings, a player like Aaron Nesmith or Patrick Williams could fit the bill. If they need a guard, (they probably won’t), Cole Anthony or Tyrese Maxey could fall to them.
Starters: Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Trevor Ariza, Paul Millsap, Jusuf Nurkić
Bench: Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., Mo Harkless, Nassir Little, Zach Collins, DeMarcus Cousins
Damian Lillard is elite. Put the right team around him, and he can win you a ring. The Blazers’ current roster isn’t enough, and these moves may or may not work. They could even trade Ariza midseason or look around for other veterans to sign.
However, they need to take risks, and these moves could help push them towards the next level that they have yet to reach.