Reason No. 3: Veterans who can stabilize and lead a team
Sharpe, Scoot, and to an extent Simons, have ruled the internet headlines this summer when we’re not obsessed with Lillard’s future.
But the other main storyline of the summer has been the overpay of Jerami Grant, who Portland signed to a five-year, $160 million extension. It’s a rich contract – one that’s too rich for a player who’s never made an all-star team. But lost in that conversation is the fact that Grant had his best season as a pro last year and spent two years in Detroit as a No. 1 offensive option.
The 29-year-old forward averaged 20.9 ppg and added 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a night with the Pistons. Last year, his first in Portland, he averaged 20.5 points but was more efficient than he was in either of his seasons in Detroit with shooting splits of 48/40/81.
As mentioned, Simons should take over as Portland’s primary facilitator and scorer, but if Scoot and Sharpe don’t come out of the gates averaging 20 ppg, Grant will be elevated to the Blazers’ No. 2 option for most of the season, and he’s already proven that’s a role he can fill.
The Blazers also had awful injury luck last year with players like Justise Winslow, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Payton II and Nassir Little – all of whom were expected to play significant roles – missing most or all of 2022-23.
A mid-season trade also shook things up as Matisse Thybulle landed with the Blazers and was key down the stretch, but he arrived when Portland was already slipping down the West standings.
A healthy Nurkic and Little, along with a more integrated Thybulle, are experienced NBA vets and can be expected to fill more significant roles than they did last season.
The takeaway here is that the Blazers aren’t just a couple of raw rookies; there’s more legitimate talent and experience on the roster that people seem to be forgetting about.
Yes, Portland will have many of the same defensive deficiencies it had last season. Replacing Lillard with Scoot is an upgrade on that end of the floor with Scoot’s strength, length and athleticism, but he’s not Rajon Rondo or Jrue Holiday. Sharpe is still raw and won’t be able to run an offense for more than a few minutes at a time.
But Simons and Grant are proven veterans who can handle a major offensive workload for head coach Chauncey Billups. (And Grant can be a significant defensive piece in Billups’ starting lineup again, as well.)
That quartet – along with Nurkic, who isn’t an ideal big man but can be effective enough when he’s healthy – can compete with most teams on a nightly basis. Factor in role players like Thybulle and Little, plus whatever Portland gets back in the Lillard trade, and the Trail Blazers should have a chance at fighting for a postseason spot immediately in 2023-24.