There are a number of teams that could make significant moves this summer after disappointing ends to their 2022-23 season, but the focal point in the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft on June 22 is Portland.
The Trail Blazers hold the No. 3 overall pick and have made it clear their goal is to trade it in order to bring in some veteran help, but there are a number of potential pitfalls in that plan and skepticism around the league they’ll be able to make it happen. For one, they need to find a team willing to trade a quality veteran for a draft pick, which is not always easy because most teams with that caliber of player are not looking at hitting the reset button on a youth movement. Another issue is the fact that, up until Charlotte makes its selection at No. 2, its not a guarantee who will be the best prospect available for a team trading into the third pick. The expectation is Scoot Henderson will be there, with Charlotte apparently leaning towards Brandon Miller, but that’s not set in stone.
Failing to find the kind of trade they’re looking for, as happened to the Golden State Warriors in 2021 in a similar position, would mean they would have to seriously consider shifting their focus to the long-term and embracing that youth movement themselves. That is something Damian Lillard has been clear he isn’t interested in, and it would then raise the possibility of the Blazers looking at moving him. That’s something he has not (and likely will not) ask for himself, but having a star who isn’t thrilled with his situation and works opposite the long-term goals of a team-building plan is not ideal and it wouldn’t require him to ask out.
This all is still a couple weeks away from even taking shape, but it hasn’t stopped it from being a topic of conversation given the caliber of player Lillard is. His friend and former teammate, CJ McCollum, also happens to moonlight as an ESPN analyst in the offseason, and somehow allowed himself to get lured into being on First Take this morning to discuss all of this.
McCollum notes he had “wine and sushi” with Dame last week but is “setting that aside” and insists anything he says in this segment is not coming from Dame directly but is just what he’s thinking — how much you choose to believe that is up to you. Eventually, he says the words Stephen A. Smith was dying to hear, which is “if I was a betting man, I would say this is the last we’ve seen of him there.”
“If I was a betting man, I would say this is the last that we’ve seen of him (in Portland).” ~@CJMcCollum
— Pinwheel Empire (@PinwheelEmpire) June 7, 2023
He quickly hedges by noting “I’m not a betting man,” which is a very funny thing to say after making that initial statement. I think he’s right that Portland is going to spend the next two weeks exploring the options available to them on both pathways, but as he notes, the Blazers are a ways away from being a contender. They would need a considerable splash to build a team with a “puncher’s chance,” as he says, and as of now it’s not clear that trade is out there.
Lillard, for his part, thinks he’ll be back in Portland next season — but again, that’s in this current world where an upgraded roster is still a possibility.