Portland Trail Blazers – A Complete Team With Legitimate Championship Aspirations

Last week, I wrote how elated I was that the Portland Trail Blazers were finally making the moves to go all-in on Damian Lillard’s prime years. And that was after just one transaction, and the team has made a few since. 

This season, the lineup will include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Collins, Enes Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr, Anfernee Simons, Derrick Jones Jr, and Harry Giles. That’s not even including last year’s first round pick Nassir Little or this year’s second round pick CJ Elby, both of which will probably be the odd men out of a deep rotation or regular DNP CD players.

This is a deep roster constructed by a front office finally willing to spend whatever it takes to get the right group in house. For years GM Neil Olshey talked about being willing to spend money, but it was rare to see him send a player he had drafted or a future pick in exchange for a player the team needed. Olshey appeared to get those habits out of his system last year when he traded Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard and let Al-Farouq Aminu walk in free agency. Gone was the talk of “we’ll be very aggressive this summer/this trade deadline/this whenever and here was the action the team and the fans needed to see. 

Hassan Whiteside was acquired for what amounted to a one year rental but a very valuable one at that as he brought much needed size and star power to the post as the team awaited Nurk’s return from an injury suffered in March of 2019 (not a typo). In a relatively small sample size in the 2020 playoff bubble, Portland tried to use Whiteside and Nurkic at the same time, but it yielded limited results, and while Nurk could be in better shape this time around, it’s not likely that two guys who prefer to stand near the hoop will be spotted on the court together regularly in today’s NBA. It was important for Portland to put as much talent on the court as possible, but the experiment didn’t work out. No harm for trying but at least now they know they can’t afford to keep both guys and that Nurkic likely makes more sense both on the court and on the books as he makes less than half what Whitside made annually on his last contract. 

Whiteside put together a great season, and the team that ultimately signs him will get an outstanding player in the prime of their career. Kanter comes at a lower price tag and has no issue being a reserve, something I would imagine would not go over well if Whiteside or Nurkic were asked to do the same for the other. 

This new lineup that features several capable defenders is going to likely catapult Portland to the elite in the Western Conference and give them the star power to battle any team in the league. 

You might think Olshey must have had to sacrifice the team’s future in order to accomplish all this, but here is what was lost in the shuffle – Trevor Ariza, Mario Hezonja, Desmond Bane, their #16 pick in the 2020 draft, and a 2021 protected first round pick. Here are the pending free agents the team probably won’t have the means to sign – Moses Brown, Jaylen Hoard, Caleb Swanigan. Jaylen Adams (Bucks) and Wenyen Gabriel (Pelicans) are already signed, and while Olshey is still under the luxury tax threshold, it’s not likely to be enough to sign another player since the minimum salary in the NBA is just over 800K per season and the team has about 600K remaining. 

For those of you wondering why Portland hasn’t just asked Whiteside to agree to the veteran minimum for a player who has been in the league for 10 seasons, he would still be due around 2.5M so Olshey would have to get creative or go over the luxury tax to sign a player they probably don’t have room for now. If you think Whitside will go for a budget friendly deal, you probably don’t sign Jones Jr or Giles until you’ve ruled out Whiteside coming back. Barring a strange miracle, I would count on Whiteside playing for another team this season. 

As for Jones Jr and Giles, we do know that roughly half of the players Olshey picks up in free agency are eventually flipped for a better player within a few months, so I wouldn’t get too attached to either player as they could be moved at the trade deadline (which either has yet to be established or is not public or I am not good at internet research – but the trade deadline usually occurs around the all-star break which is scheduled for March 5-10 this season so it could be around that time). 

If this is the roster at both ends of the 2021 season, I’m extremely happy with what Olshey put together. He has star power at every position, more than a few quality defenders, some great up and coming talent, great depth, and by re-signing Melo he has just the right amount of grizzled veteran future HOFer power on their late career title push. It’s a very balanced and very talent rich lineup that could easily compete for the conference finals and beyond. Perhaps teams in California have more household names, but I’ll put this roster against all of them right now. This is a good team, this is an elite team.

The pieces are in place on paper, now we just need to see if they can put it all together and have one magical run in 2021 to end the 43 years and counting title drought in the city of roses. 

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About Casey Mabbott 254 Articles
Casey Mabbott is a writer and podcast host born and raised in West Philadelphia where he spent most of his days on the basketball court perfecting his million dollar jumpshot. Wait, no, that’s all wrong. Casey has spent his entire life here in the Pacific NorthWest other than his one year stint as mayor of Hill Valley in an alternate reality 1985. He’s never been to Philadelphia, and his closest friends will tell you that his jumpshot is the farthest thing from being worth a million bucks. Casey enjoys all sports and covering them with written words or spoken rants. He has made an art of movie references, and is a devout follower of 80's movies and music. I don't know why you would to, but you can probably find him on the street corner waiting for the trolley to take him to the stadium or his favorite pub, where he will be telling people the answers to questions they don’t remember asking. And it only goes downhill from there if he drinks. He’s a real treat.