No team drove the tank as hard as the Portland Trail Blazers to end the season. After trading away CJ McCollum and Norman Powell, plus having Damian Lillard out due to injury, Portland went 2-21 to close out the season, with 11 of those losses being by 30 points or more. It was ugly.
For the Trail Blazers, it was all in the name of the greater good — rebuilding a roster on the fly around Lillard that can return to the mix in a deep and competitive West next season. Before the final home game of the season, Lillard thanked the fans and promised, “Next year, we will come back better than we’ve been.”
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 11, 2022
To do that means more than just getting Lillard healthy and re-signing breakout star Anfernee Simons (and maybe bringing back Jusuf Nurkic). It means recruiting a star or two — real impact players to come to Portland. Guys who lift up franchises.
That’s not something the Blazers have historically done well.
Most likely any impact player comes via trade (the Trail Blazers have a $21 million trade exception) or sign-and-trades, using their lottery pick as a draw (the No. 6 pick before the lottery). The Trail Blazers could have cap space but re-signing Simons and committing to Josh Hart (who played well for them) eats that up fast.
Even with a trade, the Blazers need buy-in from whoever comes — they need to recruit stars who want to be there. Jerami Grant‘s name has come up, but getting players of that level or higher to choose Portland has been an issue in the past. Lillard and coach Chauncey Billups believe they can change that dynamic, reports Aaron Fentress at The Oregonian.
For starters, the powers that be believe that Billups will be a huge selling point for players. Billups said a lot of players would want to play for a coach like him, who had success as a player in the NBA and will hold them accountable in order to make them better players.
“I’m a guy that believes that even the great players want to be coached,” Billups said. “Whether they say it or not, everybody wants to be coached because most people want to be great. Most people really actually want to win. I’m not the dude that thinks that because a dude is already great that there’s no other level that he can make it to. I don’t believe that. So, I’m going to coach everybody. And I’m going to hold everybody accountable, too. And I think all our guys realized that this year and they actually grew to appreciate that.”…
Of course, one of the biggest selling points will be playing with Lillard, a consummate professional and All-NBA talent.
In a thin free agent class with a lot of teams looking for trades to upgrade their rosters, players (and the front offices trading them) will have options. Players who have spent time in Portland — Hart, for example — have praised it, but Portland is not a historic warm-weather free agent destination.
Which is to say, Lillard and Billups are going to need an impressive sales pitch to rebuild on the fly like they believe they can. There will be a lot of competition in the marketplace, and Lillard and Billups have to be the draw that wins over big names.