The Damian Lillard era in Portland is coming to an end. Whether the Trail Blazers trade Dame to the Miami Heat or elsewhere, and whether it happens during the summer, during the first half of the regular season or at the trade deadline, the end is imminent.
It’ll be difficult for many fans to step back and look at the big picture because of the love Lillard has shown to the city and the team and the way that love has been reciprocated. But it’s time for both parties to move on.
To that end, it’s an entertaining and interesting exercise to look back at why the Lillard era never produced a championship-caliber team. What were the Trail Blazers missing?
Ranking the 10 worst Trail Blazers starters of the Damian Lillard era
The easy answer is that Portland could never find a way to surround Lillard with the right combination of talent. Whether it was purely an injection of skill or simply more of the type of players Dame needed to play with, the Blazers never found what they needed.
Here are some of the most epic fails of the Portland front office during Lillard’s tenure that contributed to the team’s struggle to get over the hump and truly compete for an NBA championship.
The criteria for this list is a minimum of 20 games started in a season (with one exception). Rather than counting stats – points, rebounds, assists – advanced metrics, such as win shares, offensive and defensive rating, VORP (value over replacement player) and box plus-minus will be used to gauge a player’s impact, or lack thereof, on a team in a given year.
10. The best of the worst: Trevor Ariza, 2019-20 season
You’ll notice a trend with the first three players on this list. Trevor Ariza’s 2019-20 campaign just happens to be the best of that trio.
The Trail Blazers traded for Ariza and Kent Bazemore during that season to save $12.3 million and cut their luxury tax bill in half. Ariza started 21 games for Portland and averaged 11.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals. He shot 49 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three.
It was the UCLA forward’s 16th NBA season at age 34, which makes those numbers fairly respectable. He was a consistent three-and-D option for the Blazers when he was on the floor, the same type of player he was for most of his career.
However, an aging Ariza only registered a 0.3 VORP, meaning he was hardly more valuable than a “replacement player” – a theoretical player on a minimum salary who shouldn’t part of an NBA rotation.
Essentially, Ariza wasn’t terrible during his time with the Trail Blazers, but he was far from a starting-caliber player.