5 Key Portland Trail Blazers that definitely shouldn’t return next season

Despite all playing significant roles this season, the Blazers need to move on from these five key contributors this summer.
Mar 13, 2024; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton (2)
Mar 13, 2024; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton (2) / Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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The Portland Trail Blazers are currently in the worst position a team could be in. Despite finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference at 21-61, they still found a way to be in the luxury tax and first apron heading into the 2024-25 season. The Blazers need to make a trade for the sake of finances and the team's roster in general.

They are currently in a unique spot from a financial standpoint. Deandre Ayton, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, and Malcolm Brogdon combine for 80 percent of the Trail Blazers' salary cap. Having so much money invested into a handful of players yet being far from competing in the playoffs is certainly not ideal.

But, with the progression of their up-and-coming prospects and the addition of two lottery picks, there is reason for optimism surrounding their rebuilding process. Moving these key five players can help Rip City as they continue their roster overhaul.

1. Deandre Ayton

It's difficult to gauge how much Deandre Ayton contributes to a team. He can put up excellent stats that are somewhat "empty" and don't impact winning as much as you'd expect if you just saw the box score. The NBA style of play has transitioned away from centers like Ayton - someone with an excellent midrange game that can't shoot threes and isn't a defensive-minded rim protector.

To be fair, Ayton is an above-average starting center in the NBA. He turned his play around towards the end of the season after strangely blaming his slow start in Portland for having to sleep on an air mattress. Post All-Star break, Ayton averaged 22.7 points and 12.5 rebounds, showing flashes of what made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The issue with Ayton is that we will always wonder if he will consistently be able to do that throughout an entire season. Combine that with the fact that his play style isn't ideal in today's NBA, and it's hard to justify paying Ayton; Portland owes him $34 million next season and $35.5 million the following season. Paying a center that doesn't protect the paint on defense or space the floor on offense that amount of money limits your team's upside, financially and in terms of play style.

It could make sense to part ways with Ayton and take advantage of his high stock right now following his strong finish to the season. Portland could replace Ayton in this year's draft with a center like Connecticut's Donovan Clingan and the return of a hopefully healthy Robert Williams, allowing them to address other positional needs while saving cap room.