The future of the Portland Trail Blazers is in Damian Lillard’s hands.
The biggest question of the offseason revolves around Lillard and his status as a member of the Blazers. The Blazers are coming off a first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, marking the fourth time in five years where Portland failed to reach the second round.
Something needs to change in Portland. The first step happened last week when Terry Stotts was relieved of his head coaching duties. Stotts made the playoffs in eight straight seasons, but only accumulated one Conference Finals appearance. Stotts may not have been the biggest problem in Portland, but it’s clear he wasn’t the solution.
The next step towards change involves the roster, which needs to be revamped desperately. On paper, the Blazers have sufficient firepower on offense thanks to Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Norman Powell, and Carmelo Anthony. That being said, the Blazers had the 29th out of 30 defensive rating. In other words, the Blazers were allergic to defense.
When Lillard needed his teammates the most, the supporting cast was nowhere to be found. Look no further than Game 5 between the Blazers and the Nuggets. Lillard was unstoppable, scoring 55 points on 17-24 shooting including an incredible 12-17 from behind the arc. What about the rest of his teammates? They managed to make one (!!!) shot when the game mattered the most.
Now comes the all important question. What should the Blazers do with Lillard?
The Blazers should do everything in their power to keep Lillard. Lillard is one of the three best guards in the game and the true definition of a franchise player. Dame is an All-NBA superstar who’s averaged over 25 points per game for six straight seasons. Lillard is in the middle of his prime and signed through 2025 so there’s no reason to get rid of him. Dame is one of the ten best players in the NBA, and Portland will continue to make the playoffs if he’s in the lineup.
The Blazers are better in the short term with Lillard, but trading the cornerstone of the franchise might improve their chance in the long run. Do not listen to Neil Oshey, general manager of the Blazers, who said the first-round loss was not a product of the roster. The roster is exactly why they lost to the Nuggets and it’s why they’ve lost in the first round in four of the past five seasons.
If the Blazers take the “our core will get better and our role players will step up” approach this offseason, you might as well pencil in another first-round loss next season. With the Lakers, Suns, Clippers, Mavericks, and Nuggets all on the upswing, the Blazers need a roster makeover.
The easier move for Portland would be to trade CJ McCollum, who has been in trade rumors for what seems like his entire career. CJ may not be a superstar, but he’s a very good scoring option that any contender would love to have. Perhaps the Bucks, Mavericks, or Sixers would consider trading for McCollum to shake up their rosters.
As good as CJ is, Lillard is the crown jewel. If a team were to acquire Lillard in a trade, they would instantly become a threat to make the NBA Finals. If the Blazers fully commit to a rebuild, then they could receive a king’s ransom for Lillard, similar to one the Thunder received in the Paul George trade. Five first-round picks, two pick swaps, and a player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was amazing compensation for George. Lillard is even better than George so the Blazers could potentially receive even more assets than the Thunder did for George.
Think about all the teams with young players, picks, and cap space. The Knicks have two firsts this year, all of their first in the next five years, 70 million in cap space, and a young core of players highlighted by RJ Barrett. The Celtics could trade Jaylen Brown and multiple picks for Lillard, according to Chris Mannix. The Heat and Clippers could also provide packages that could entice the Blazers to trade their superstar guard.
If Lillard wants to be traded, he can march right into Oshey’s office and ask out of Portland. It’s important to remember that this is Lillard we’re talking about, one of the most loyal players in the NBA. It’s not in his DNA to ask for a trade. However, things can change if Dame exhausts all of his options in Portland.
There is no ending in sight to the Lillard dilemma for Portland. It’s only just begin.
Should the Blazers trade Damian Lillard? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet us @danny_giro.