For the second consecutive NBA postseason, the Portland Trail Blazers’ brain trust will be spending its time finding ways to tinker with the roster – tinker, in this case, meaning set fire to half of it before dousing the flames and hoping some magical phoenix rises from the ashes.
Fans, though, have the luxury of just watching good basketball from their couches, daydreaming of Mikal Bridges, Jaylen Brown, or some other superstar playing in black and red, helping Damian Lillard make a championship push next season.
Even if the Blazers aren’t around to cheer for over the next few months, though, doesn’t mean there aren’t potential offseason implications if a certain few teams flame out epically, forcing their own respective brain trusts to contemplate some major summer changes.
Three teams the Trail Blazers should be rooting for in the playoffs
1. Atlanta Hawks
First-round opponent: Boston Celtics
If Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin, Head Coach Chauncey Billups, and Lillard have visions of Brown in a PDX jersey dancing in their heads, they’d love nothing more than to see Trae Young celebrating in Boston’s TD Garden.
The likelihood of this happening is slim – in fact, the Celtics already hold a 1-0 series advantage after a 112-99 win on the postseason’s opening day.
Still, it’s not like the Hawks aren’t a talented team; they’ve just severely underperformed in 2022-23. Young’s capable of getting hot and putting up 40 points on any given night, and Dejounte Murray and De’Andre Hunter are good enough defensively to at least make Jayson Tatum work.
If Atlanta can pull a dramatic upset and bounce Boston in the first round, Brown may look twice at his upcoming contract extension and his current situation with the Celtics and at least contemplate a change.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
First-round opponent: Miami Heat
This one shouldn’t be too difficult – rooting for Giannis Antetokounmpo while also seeing Milwaukee easily dispatch of the Heat.
A 4-0 sweep, for example, could cause Miami to look at 33-year-old Jimmy Butler, 37-year-old Kyle Lowry, and Duncan Robinson’s $16 million salary and think, “Hmm, maybe it’s time to take a different route.”
That would suit the Blazers just fine. The Heat’s most valuable trade asset is center Bam Adebayo. If Miami were to shop him, there’s a good chance they can get a big enough return that they could reset with a younger core while still hovering in the middle tier of the Eastern Conference.
Tyler Herro would be another option to sell high on, or maybe team president Pat Riley just rips the band-aid off completely and deals Butler.
Either way, an embarrassing Miami flameout at the hands of the NBA’s best team could prove beneficial for Portland.
3. Brooklyn Nets
First-round opponent: Philadelphia 76ers
Perhaps this one seems a little backward. Why wouldn’t it help the Blazers for the Nets to revisit their return from the Kevin Durant trade and wonder if they should continue to tear down the roster and head for a complete rebuild?
After all, Bridges may be one of the most realistic options for Portland to acquire who also fits the bill as an emerging superstar and an ideal fit next to Lillard.
If Cronin is really going all-in this summer, though, it would be better to watch the Sixers fall to pieces and get upset by that rag-tag group in Brooklyn.
It’s not hard to imagine the scenario: James Harden flops again in the playoffs. Then Harden does another Harden thing and leaves Philly hanging to sign a longer, richer contract elsewhere.
That would leave Joel Embiid alone to look around at what’s left of a roster he still hasn’t won anything with.
The next superstar to demand a trade is always just around the corner in the NBA, and oftentimes no one sees it coming until that demand is made public.
If this situation plays out – which it very well could – Embiid could be that next superstar, and the Blazers could throw everything they have at the Sixers to try and bring the best center in the league to Portland.