For the greater part of the last decade, the Portland Trail Blazers had been one of the league’s most exciting teams to watch solely on the backs of their two prolific scoring guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Even with one of the best scoring backcourts of the 2010’s, Portland had little success to show for it, leaving the span feeling shorthanded and truly underwhelming. The Blazers tallied a total of five first round exits in a ten-year span. For the longest time the Blazers had been the poster boys of mediocrity. Portland posed enough of a threat to not take them lightly but not to the extent that they were seen as true competitors in a loaded Western Conference.
Portland’s most prominent issue for the longest time has been their incapability to get their defense and offense to click within the same season. Under former head coach Terry Stotts, the Blazers were consistently among the top half of the league in terms of offensive rating. In the two seasons the Blazers defense caught up with their offensive fire power, they were still knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, both in embarrassing fashion.
The most common target of criticism in the struggling years was former team executive, Neil Olshey. After years of lackluster rosters being hyped up to the point fans just had to buy in to what the front office was selling, Olshey was canned just a month and a half into the 2021-2022 season.
Interim general manager Joe Cronin stepped in at a time when the franchise was just about to head off the rails. Underperforming under a first-year head coach, your franchise player is missing games left and right with a nagging injury, and the overall state of the organization is slowly spiraling. Cronin adopted an organization on its last legs and was put in the position to make moves that will alter the future of this team immediately. Under his leadership the Blazers’ future seems to show signs of life.
Maybe this feeling comes knowing that whatever happens won’t be a carbon copy of the same formula that’s been recycled for so many years. But it’s difficult to pinpoint a year in the Damian Lillard era in which there has been so much buzz around the organization.
Portland currently sits at 27-51 with a nine percent chance of capturing the first overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. In addition to their pick, Portland has a good chance of gaining the Pelicans pick they got in return for C.J. McCollum, should it fall anywhere between the fifth and fourteenth draft selections.
With two possible top-10 picks coming in and contracts large enough to salaries match in the trade market, Portland has the most flexibility they have had in almost a decade. If Cronin is set to take on a full-time position as the Blazers’ general manager, he is projected to have nearly $20 million in cap space. While it remains unlikely a top star navigates his way to the Pacific Northwest, this is the organization’s best chance to put a formidable roster around Damian Lillard.
Portland looks to be banking on a backcourt of Anfernee Simons and Damian Lillard to get the job done over the next couple years. With the backcourt locked in, Portland desperately needs to bolster their frontcourt in order to even have a fighting chance in the Western Conference. It seems hard to believe the Blazers would be up to using both lottery picks– should the Pelicans pick convey– with the time ticking down on Damian Lillard’s best years.
Portland has been linked to Jerami Grant dating all the way back to the trade deadline in February. While Grant himself doesn’t move the needle in terms of making this team a legit contender, he would without a doubt be the best wing Damian Lillard has played with in his career.
There’s no telling what this offseason will lead the Blazers to come next season. A revamped roster is exactly what this team has been needing for years on end. But the acceptance of mediocrity from the higher-ups plagued them.
In a bizarre way, not knowing what to expect from the Blazers this offseason is exciting. Portland is coming off years of being stuck in the middle and then finding themselves at the bottom of the standings. Portland now has the opportunity to make moves in order to become a threat. The only question is if Joe Cronin is up for it and only time will tell.