The Portland Trail Blazers and Interim General Manager Joe Cronin made one of the first big moves of the trade deadline on Friday. The result was utter disdain from the fanbase.
Robert Covington and Norman Powell were sent to the Los Angeles Clippers for Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, Eric Bledsoe, and a 2025 2nd round pick. I will allow you to wrap your head around what you just read.
Reminder: Portland traded two 1st round picks to the Houston Rockets for Covington. They traded Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood to the Toronto Raptors for Powell, then signed him to a large extension.
The return is a likely buy-out candidate in Bledsoe, a once-promising 2-way player in Winslow that never put it all together, the 21st pick in the 2021 draft who has struggled at the NBA level, and a 2nd round pick. To mix metaphors, the Blazers paid in steak and came away with gristle.
There is a case that former General Manager Neil Olshey hamstrung the team. Portland was pushed over the cap, and it is common knowledge that owner Jody Allen does not want to pay the luxury tax for a roster that might not make the play-in, let alone make a deep playoff run. The league consensus was that Covington was gone to get under the tax line. Olshey was the one responsible for sending off picks willy-nilly to try and force a contender on a team where the two guards do not play NBA-level defense. Powell was clearly suffering on the defensive end, being forced to guard wings when he is naturally a shooting guard.
The issue is that teams were sniffing around for Covington. It is hard to believe that this was the most Cronin would get for him. Adding Powell, one of the few bright spots in the Blazers rotation this year, pours a whole container of salt into that wound. When teams talk about “financial flexibility,” it means one of two things. Either the team is prepping for free agency and can bring some new talent in (Miami, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Dallas), or “the owner wants to spend less so make it happen.” Guess which one Portland is?
The only way this turns positive somehow for the Blazers is if they have finally reached the end of the rope for the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum era. Rumors are floating around about the New Orleans Pelicans willing to send a package of young players plus a 1st round pick for McCollum. If this is just the start of the massive rebuild the team badly needs, then it isn’t as bad. It will still be bad, but not the nuclear grade awful it currently is.
That is smoke, but there is no fire yet. It brings up another major problem with the Blazers. The final insult to this injury to the fans is the idea that the front office is okay with running it back yet again. Returning a core of Lillard, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and whatever they can jam into those final two holes. As if the last three seasons haven’t been a non-stop parade of atrocious defense buoyed by Damian Lillard playing out of his mind, dragging the team into the postseason.
That may be all Allen wants. Lillard will fight, claw, and scratch to get Portland into the playoffs. His superstardom is enough to get butts in seats and jerseys off racks. Who cares that the team will be a low seed fed to any Western Conference contender? Remember, they made the Western Conference Finals that one time! Any given Sunday, a team can win four games against teams that play competent defense in addition to having scoring options. Just forget they lost last year to a Nuggets team missing half its roster due to injury.
The fans of the Portland Trail Blazers cannot be satisfied with mediocrity. This trade is exactly that.