It feels like things are about to reach a climax between the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard.
After Portland chose Scoot Henderson with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft and then added two more rookies in Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert, rumors of a potential Lillard exit bumped up another level.
A meeting between Dame, his agent, and Trail Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin only made those rumors swirl even faster, despite Cronin’s statement that his goal remains to build around Lillard and keep him in Portland.
That’s been Cronin’s stated goal all along, despite him having yet to make a move toward that end. Free agency is his next (and perhaps last) chance to add the veteran help Lillard desperately desires.
As teams can “officially” begin negotiating with free agents on June 30 at 6 p.m. ET, it’s critical that the Blazers front office act quickly to make its moves before other teams make theirs and players make decisions.
But just what, exactly, should those moves be?
Trail Blazers immediate free agency move No. 1: Contact Draymond Green
Green’s flaws often come to mind before his strengths.
He’s 33 years old, can clog things up offensively with his inability (and unwillingness) to make open threes, and will command a hefty contract that will likely run through his age 36 or 37 seasons. If his skills start to decline, the last few years of that deal will be hard to swallow.
But Cronin needs to immediately get in contact with Draymond’s camp to gauge his interest in coming to Portland for two reasons.
The first is simple: Lillard wants Green. Per Sam Amick of The Athletic:
"Here’s one solution that is known to be a dream scenario from Lillard’s vantage point: Re-sign forward Jerami Grant and add four-time All-Star/four-time champion Draymond Green in free agency. … While Golden State is known to be extremely confident about Green re-signing, the price of his return is likely to be a point of contention. Enter the Blazers, who could make Green the unofficial savior in this sensitive Lillard situation while giving him a chance to add to his legacy in a different jersey after 11 seasons with the Warriors."
Then Amick adds the elephant-in-the-room caveat to this “dream scenario.”
"As is the case with so many of these scenarios, it would take some serious salary cap wizardry by Cronin to make this happen. While the Blazers have Grant’s Bird rights and can thus re-sign him despite being over the salary cap, they currently have no room to sign someone of Green’s ilk."
However, there’s another reason the Blazers should do everything possible to at least make Draymond think seriously about joining Dame in Portland: He would immediately upgrade the team’s woeful defense.
Green is the often undervalued key cog in the Warriors’ well-oiled machine. He has a brilliant defensive mind and communicates with his teammates on the court, directing them where to go and when to get there. This would be extremely helpful to young players like Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe, who need to learn the intricacies of NBA defenses – and quickly if they hope to contribute next to Lillard next season.
Green’s offensive liabilities are less pronounced than most fans believe. When teams sag off him to clog the paint and/or double Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, Green finds other smart, useful ways to contribute, mainly as a screener and a high-level playmaker out of pick-and-roll situations and dribble handoffs:
Draymond could use these skills to get Lillard open just as he did Curry, whose game shares a lot of similarities with Dames.
Cronin – and probably Lillard, too – needs to make a call at 6:01 to at least gauge Green’s interest in Portland. If there’s a legitimate chance to bring him aboard, the Blazers need to put on the full-court press and find a way to make it happen.