“I don’t disagree that maybe Chauncey [Billups, the new Portland coach] can change our team and make us a better team. But I think if you look at our team as it is, I don’t see how you say ‘this is a championship team, we just need a new coach….’ We need to be more urgent… we have made the playoffs all these years, we’re a good team, we’re not a bad team, but it’s reached the point where we have to ask ‘have we done enough?'”
Damian Lillard may not have asked for a trade out of Portland (yet), but he also threw down the gauntlet to Trail Blazers management: What we have is not good enough. Make us better. Make us contenders. Fast.
That is not something the Trail Blazers can do through the draft, where even the top players take several years of development to help a team contend (think Deandre Ayton or Devin Booker). Portland is not on that kind of timeline, so the Trail Blazers are shooting down teams calling to offer draft picks for CJ McCollum trades, reports Jason Quick at The Athletic.
Teams are calling the Blazers and asking for CJ McCollum and, in return, offering Portland a chance to get into the top part of the draft. But Portland is not entertaining those offers because it is in a win-now phase and looking for veterans more than rookies to build around.
That doesn’t mean McCollum isn’t available via trades, he just isn’t for a rookie. Portland GM Neil Olshey understands he needs a second star on the level of other second stars in the West to compete at the level Lillard expects.
The aim for Portland is to elevate its No. 2 player, which currently is McCollum. In the NBA, teams are largely based around two star players. The Blazers feel like with Lillard, it’s a fair fight against nearly every other top player in the league. But while McCollum is a talented player, they have realized there’s a steep drop when pitting him against other team’s second-best players, such as Anthony Davis, Paul George, Klay Thompson and, after his recent NBA Finals run, Khris Middleton.
That will be tough to do with what the Trail Blazers have available to trade. The most likely outcome is the Trail Blazers re-sign Norman Powell — keeping the starting five of Lillard, McCollum, Powell, Robert Covington, and Jusuf Nurkic, a group with strong numbers last year — and adding bench depth. Maybe they can find a new starting four instead of Covington, but the Trail Blazers need someone who can defend.
Is that good enough to keep Lillard happy? If not, or if Portland gets off to a slow start in a deep West, the trade deadline next February could get very, very interesting.