When news broke of the Portland Trail Blazers plan to trade their superstar, Damian Lillard, it signaled the end of an era and was a harsh reminder of the transient nature of professional basketball. Without its cornerstone player, there’s no denying Portland will shift from an era of win-now basketball to a rebuilding phase.
This begs the question: Should the Trail Blazers let go of their remaining high-value older veteran players as well? The answer, though not comforting to some, is a resounding “yes.”
3 other veterans the Trail Blazers should deal after a Damian Lillard trade
First, let’s consider the team’s performance in the 2022-23 season. With Lillard and Jerami Grant on the court, the Blazers struggled with a 23-27 record. When Lillard sat, the team with Grant at the helm posted a 5-8 record.
While Grant is a fantastic player in his own right, these numbers underline the fact that the Blazers are unlikely to sustain a winning trajectory based solely on the performances of their veteran players. Even with Lillard on the court the team struggled, and there is no one on the roster who can immediately replace his production.
It’s wishful thinking to believe that the Blazers will be able to win more next season in the absence of Lillard.
Grant, alongside Jusuf Nurkic, is part of an aging core that could prove to be valuable as trade assets in the post-Lillard era. At 28 and 29 years old, respectively, Nurkic and Grant are excellent players that any win-now team would gladly welcome; but within the context of a Blazers team in the throes of a rebuild, they seem out of place.
Consequently, it would be wise for the Blazers to trade these players for assets that align with the developmental timeline of their promising young talents – Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, and Scoot Henderson. These youngsters have massive potential, but it will take time for them to mature and reach their primes.
Trading veterans for younger talents or draft picks would aid this developmental process and build a solid foundation for the future.
Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin has doubled down on his winning mentality.
“Our goal is to win and keep moving forward,” he stated recently.
However, it is clear that “moving forward” does not necessarily mean clinging to the older group. Instead, it should imply investing in youth, fostering growth and patiently building toward a future in which the Blazers can once again compete at the highest level.
This could also mean trading Keon Johnson, a young guard, who unfortunately finds himself lost in the shuffle with the Blazers’ guard-heavy roster. The team would benefit more from an older, experienced guard to mentor the young backcourt, much like Lillard has, and provide stability in his absence.
Embracing this new era is a difficult pill to swallow for some Blazers fans. Yet, letting go of high-value veteran players is a necessary step in facilitating a successful rebuild. There’s no shortcut to success, and as the adage goes, sometimes you need to take one step back to take two steps forward.
This, in essence, should be the Blazers’ strategy moving forward, aimed at fostering a brighter future for the franchise.