Could Blazers perfect roster-building formula the fabled Warriors bombed?

Jonathan Kuminga (left), Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Kuminga (left), Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Portland Trail Blazers have two paths to choose from this offseason: win now or win later. Trade young players and future picks for veteran stars or trade Damian Lillard for assets and rebuild.

But what if there was an option that would allow the franchise to do both?

The Golden State Warriors asked themselves a similar question two years ago.

Coming off of back-to-back playoff absences in 2019-20 and 20-21, the Dubs had already used a lottery pick on raw center James Wiseman and owned two more top-14 picks in the 2021 draft.

Rather than package those picks, along with perhaps Wiseman, to trade for another star to pair with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, the Warriors decided to infuse their roster with youth by selecting Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7 and Moses Moody at No. 14.

The plan worked…but it also didn’t.

Golden State won the 2022-23 NBA Championship. That worked.

The 19-year-old Moody averaged 8.1 minutes per game in 13 of the team’s 22 playoff contests. Kuminga played 8.6 mpg in 16 games. Wiseman was injured and didn’t play at all. That didn’t work.

But the Warriors were coming off a title with promising young players who now had championship experience. Surely, they would take a leap and start becoming that “next generation” Golden State was hoping for.

After all, the franchise was lightyears ahead of everyone else in the NBA, right?

As it turns out, not so much. Curry and Co. bowed out of the 2023 playoffs after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Warriors are now facing the same dilemma they did in 2021: trade their young assets for another star, or keep allowing them to develop while playing chicken with another season of the aging Curry-Thompson-Green core?

Portland finds itself in an eerily similar situation this summer – but can general manager Joe Cronin and the Trail Blazers find a way to balance the win-now-and-also-win-later approach Golden State seems to be failing?

The Blazers’ roster is currently on two different timelines

Much like the Warriors were (or are), Portland is straddling the line between veterans and youth, even if it’s not quite to the same extent. Rather than the hall-of-fame trio of Steph, Klay, and Draymond, Portland has Damian Lillard, who will turn 33 next season.

It might as well be the same thing, though, as far as the Blazers are concerned. No more straddling the line in Rip City. No more Dame and a bunch of kids. It’s time to choose a path. Right?

Well, maybe Cronin can find a way to succeed where legendary Golden State GM Bob Meyers has not, for the following reasons:

  • The Warriors’ young trio is down to a duo after the team gave up on Wiseman and sent him to the Detroit Pistons at February’s trade deadline.
  • Shaedon Sharpe has already been more productive in the NBA than either Kuminga or Moody.
  • Golden State had the seventh and 14th picks when it chose its two future assets. Portland has the No. 3 pick (which is more valuable than both the Warriors’ combined), as well as the No. 23 pick in this year’s draft – which is nothing to scoff at when looking at the number of athletic, defensive-minded role players who will likely be available at that selection.
  • Sharpe, and to an extent Anfernee Simons as we saw this season, is not only more talented than either of Kuminga or Moody (or perhaps Jordan Poole, depending on your thoughts), he’ll get more opportunities to improve with more legitimate minutes. Sharpe could be the Blazers’ sixth man, or even start in 2023-24.
  • None of these young players will get punched by Draymond in training camp.

To sum up: Sharpe is the most talented and, despite being a raw prospect like Wiseman was in 2020, is more ready for significant playing time than Kuminga or Moody, who are already entering their third NBA seasons.

Whichever player Portland chooses at No. 3 in this year’s draft, be it Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, or another prospect such as Cam Whitmore, should be better and more NBA-ready than Kuminga or Moody were in 2021.

On the flip side, Lillard isn’t Curry. Simons and Jerami Grant (if he re-signs) don’t have the championship experience of Thompson or Green. Golden State’s nucleus is simply better than Portland’s.

In terms of balancing two timelines, though, the Blazers are better equipped with more talented, proven young players who can contribute to winning now than Golden State is.

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Will that lead to the playoff success the Warriors have enjoyed? Maybe, may not. But Cronin and Portland, should they play their cards right, have a better chance at playing for both the present and future than the much-lauded, folkloric, mythological, greatest-of-all-time, heavenly front office of Golden State.