A 122-119 road win over the Orlando Magic – a win which once again took a massive effort from Damian Lillard (41 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 17 made free throws) – kept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference postseason picture.
Portland is only a half-game back of the 10th-place Utah Jazz. The bottom of the West is still packed with only three games separating the sixth-place Minnesota Timberwolves from the Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder (tied for 12th).
That means a postseason spot is up for grabs on any given night, which will make for a nail-biting final month of the regular season.
But even with what has become Dame’s best season as a pro, the Blazers are nowhere close to being a title contender. To get there, general manager Joe Cronin needs to work some offseason magic and use the assets he has to upgrade and balance the roster around Lillard.
Maybe that means taking a big swing and going all-in now, since Lillard will turn 33 next season. Or maybe it means making a few more incremental moves and seeing what a new season brings.
No matter what the plan is, though, Cronin should have a list of offseason priorities, priority No. 1 being re-signing Jerami Grant, who’s fit in perfectly in Portland and seems like the ideal teammate for Lillard.
But after that, what do the Blazers need to do to aim for the top of the West in 2023-24?
Priority No. 1: Hold onto your own
Grant isn’t the only free agent Portland needs to find a new contract for.
Since arriving in Rip City from New York and Philadelphia, respectively, Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle have immediately entrenched themselves into the Trail Blazers’ rotation.
Reddish is beginning to find some consistency in Portland, not just the flashes of potential he showed in Atlanta before being stuffed at the end of the bench with the Knicks.
The 6-foot-7 wing is averaging 14.3 points on 48 percent shooting and a career-best 38 percent from three on more than six attempts a night.
He’s also only 23 years old.
Thybulle, meanwhile, has been a consistent member of the starting lineup in the eight games he’s played as a Blazer. He’s provided the kind of defense that earned him All-Defensive honors in consecutive seasons, but he’s also beginning to prove he may have an offensive game buried in there somewhere that he hasn’t been able to show to this point in his career.
The 26-year-old is connecting on 46 percent of his 4.6 3-point attempts a night. That percentage is likely to come back to earth, but eight games is a big enough sample size to show that there’s more shooting to Thybulle’s game than previously thought.
Reddish is due a qualifying offer of $8.1 million, while Thybulle’s QO is $6.3 million. Teams may come calling with contract offers for both players, but the Blazers have the right to match any of those offers.
Signing both players to extensions – which, given the trajectory of their NBA careers so far, should be relatively team-friendly – is an important piece of the upcoming offseason.