Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are arguably the best backcourt in the NBA, at least certainly offensively, and will remain at the top of the backcourt duos list as long as the pair remains in Portland. Despite their collective skill, the Trail Blazers dropped their second straight game at home Friday night as the team fell to the Brooklyn Nets 101-97.
It is hard to say that a team that has made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons is a bad team, but that might be what we are beginning to see in Portland. A few summers ago, the team lost four starters (Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum) and was looking at a massive rebuild set around young star Damian Lillard. The following season, however, turned out to be a surprising success as CJ McCollum burst onto the scene and the team managed to climb to the second round of the playoffs out West.
Looking closer, one can see that the Blazers defeated a heavily injured Clippers team in the first round before falling to the Warriors without much of a fight in the second round. The following year in 2017 the team managed to hold onto the 8th seed in the West before being swept by the Warriors in the first round. Essentially, the Blazers may have only delayed their rebuild by a few seasons and wasted precious years of their star’s career in the process.
Portland’s roster features one of the highest payrolls in the entire NBA with little to no young talent and several unfavorable contracts. The team is stuck with players such as Meyers Leonard, who has a career average of 5.7 points per game through 301 games, unless they can find a trade partner willing to eat some of the bad contracts on the roster.
The problem with trading away bad contracts and trying to remain a contender is that you rarely are able to get anything of real value in return. The team could trade draft picks to sweeten the deal and shed salary, but that would only compound the other issue which is the lack of young players performing for the team. In the loss to the Nets Friday, the team’s four most recent draft selections (Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan) combined for 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists on 3-10 shooting. Most of those stats came from Connaughton alone, with the Notre Dame product scoring 6 points on 2-7 shooting. Layman and Collins did not play in the contest.
The lack of talent around the star guards does not just apply to the young role players, though. The bench as a whole ranks 25th in the NBA in scoring at only 28.4 points per game while shooting 42.6% from the floor, a mark only good enough to reach 20th in the league. To compound the offensive mediocrity of the bench, the unit also commits the 9th most fouls of any bench in the NBA allowing opposing teams to score easy points while Lillard or McCollum get rest. This keeps games much closer than they could be and forces incredible pressure on the starting backcourt, which shows as the team is now 3-5 in games decided by fewer than 10 points this season.
As tough as it may be for Blazer fans, it might be time to completely scrap the roster and try to start fresh. It would not be a true rebuild, as with Lillard and McCollum the roster will always at least be in playoff contention, but shedding as many of the current supporting players as possible before the off-season should be a priority. Floating in the middle of the Western Conference will only lead to the eventual frustration, and departure, of the star’s even if the pair claims they will never leave Rip City. With the dynamic duo both still under the age of 30, the time for Portland to act is now. Otherwise, prepare for another mass exodus of talent without Damian Lillard there to break the fall this time around.