Oh, the Portland Trail Blazers. Let’s start with the concept that sports are a wonderful, frustrating thing. We as fans get so enamored with a team and the players to the point where we lose sleep over their success. It turns out that a team just on the cusp of breaking the proverbial glass ceiling has an ever more sleepless fanbase, and Portland Trail Blazer fans understand this wholeheartedly. It is tougher to look back a couple of years and say, “We were a Golden State Warriors dynasty away from winning it all,” than saying, “We were pretty close some years.”
As I said above, sports are frustrating. The Trail Blazers have talent, plain and simple. Damian Lillard is an all-generation player who has all the ability in the world to carry a team, and CJ McCollum is a special talent with skills beyond many at his position. So why can the Trail Blazers not break through? Before the Gold Medal game in the Tokyo Olympics, Lillard commented on the Trail Blazers’ ability to sign free agents, basically stating they are doing the best they can with what they have. Here are some issues with what they have.
It is important to note that it is unlikely any of these reasons alone would prevent free agents from signing with Portland, but the culmination of all certainly plays a role in their thinking. The first roadblock Portland faces is its geography. Almost all their road trips are longer, resulting in less time on the court and less time getting needed sleep. In fact, the Trail Blazers traveled 2nd most of any NBA team in 2019, only behind the Minnesota Timberwolves. Portland traveled more than 55,000 miles throughout the season, almost 9,000 more than the average team and more than 17,000 more than the least traveled team in the Cavs. Again, this alone likely will not deter free agents, but the mass amount of travel must be noted.
Oregon State Income Tax
Yes, it is hard to talk about money when players make millions of dollars for playing the game they love. But, when millions of dollars are on the line, this starts to matter. For example, in the 2015-16 season, LaMarcus Aldridge paid $1.2 million in Oregon state taxes, a number which would have been $0 if he played in a state like Texas. Again, to win a championship or be part of a quality team, a player would have little to no problem paying this tax, but who can blame them if they want to save millions on their taxes.
The Portland metro area is listed as the 20th market size in the NBA, belonging to small NBA markets. Small market teams in the NBA can have all the world of success; it has been proven that it is harder to break that ceiling in a small market. The most recent NBA champions in the Milwaukee Bucks have an even small market than the Trail Blazers, and they found a way to thrive in the current NBA.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s loyalty to the team is admirable. The franchise, however, is getting into muddy water where if they do not win and do not make a blockbuster trade, these all-star players may end up walking for nothing in return. Portland has always believed they could go all the way with their core but have always come up short. Obviously, no one wants to look past these players on the Trail Blazers, but at some point, the team must look to the future with draft picks and younger stars.
The Trail Blazers do have a lot going for them. Any basketball player, issues with Portland aside, would absolutely love to play alongside Lillard and McCollum. They are all-stars anyway you look at them. The franchise, for whatever reason, has not been able to put enough pieces around them to win a championship. The Milwaukee Bucks roster found a way to build around Giannis and Khris Middleton by adding Jrue Holiday as another all-star and P.J. Tucker and Bobby Portis as key role players if another all-star would end up with Lillard and McCullum, who knows the ceiling of that team.