Not even the most devoted Portland Trail Blazers fanatics could have foreseen what this season has wrought in the Rose City. Damian Lillard continues to improve as a scorer, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are playing up to their potential, the bench moves by GM Neil Olshey have all worked out well, and LaMarcus Aldridge is playing on a different plane of existence from just about everyone in the league not named Love, Durant or James.
Portland just had yet another winning streak end with a 126-113 loss at Houston last night. Aldridge scored 27 to go with 20 rebounds, Lillard had 24, and the bench tandem of C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson, and Mo Williams combined for 19 points, an unheard of number from the bench a year ago.
With the loss, Portland drops to a full game behind San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference. For the fans, now is the time to get a defensive stopper to improve the 26th best defense in the league, shore up the bench, and use the best offense in the league to march to the NBA Finals.
Sounds easy. Unfortunately, that's not really the case.
Problem 1: Portland has only one expiring contract, the $880,000 contract of Earl Watson. Which means that the Blazers can't offset a salary crunch by sending away expiring deals. Which is not such a problem except …
Problem 2: The Blazers have no single salary dump candidates. If the Blazers wanted a defensive stopper like an Iman Shumpert or a Tyson Chandler for instance (mind you Chandler would be awful on the Blazers but anyway), they have no one to send to offset the salaries unless they sent half the roster. Outside of the large contracts given to Aldridge and Batum, the only attractive contracts cannot be moved: the ones given to Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson. Neither player can be traded because they were already acquired in this calendar year. Most of the roster makes around three million a year, making any trade logistics a nightmare. This is compounded by …
Problem 3: The Blazers are over the cap as well. While $4 million over is not so bad, that means that any trade with another team has to be fairly even to be in compliance with league rules. So the Blazers cannot send three $3,000,000 contracts and get back a $12 million contract.
So the Blazers are pretty much locked in to their roster for the long haul. While the chemistry has been there, and the injury bug has stayed far away from his summer home in the Rose Quarter, the Blazers will need to shore up the defense on their own. Portland cannot let this season go to waste.