Obvious Blazers decision will pay massive dividends over the next 5 years

The Trail Blazers are doing what is necessary to maximize their long-term odds of winning.

Portland Trail Blazers, Chauncey Billups
Portland Trail Blazers, Chauncey Billups / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have won just four games since the start of February. They were 15-33 after a Jan. 31 victory over the Bucks and will finish March at 19-55. The injuries have piled up and given the franchise even more ammunition to tank down the stretch.

Portland began a rebuild the moment they traded franchise GOAT Damian Lillard but started before his departure. They haven’t reached the playoffs since 2021 and made their last serious run in 2019 when Lillard lifted them to the conference finals.

The Blazers are tanking down the stretch for the third straight year. They won just two of their final 17 games last season and closed 2-21 in 2022. It has already helped Portland get some young talent, but this year’s obvious decision will be a key part of the franchise building back to contention.

Tanking is the right decision for the Blazers

Games like Friday night’s 142-82 loss are embarrassing and record-setting in the wrong way, but it takes years for a tree to grow. Rip City is performing both necessary parts of maximizing a rebuild, and they will see the fruits of those efforts over the next half-decade.

The oldest player to see the floor against the Heat was rookie Duop Reath, who turns 28 in June. Matisse Thybulle played seven minutes and every other player was 25 or younger. Scoot Henderson is getting crucial minutes and reps as their starting point guard, despite his first-year struggles. The Blazers are also finding out what they have in rookies Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert.

It has also opened a larger role for Deandre Ayton, and the 25-year-old big man is proving why he was the number one overall pick. Over his last eight games, Ayton is averaging 23.4 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in 34.9 minutes per game. He has made 61.4 percent from the field and 77.8 percent on his free throws during that stretch. Ayton was a key part of the Suns’ NBA Finals run in 2021, and the Blazers hope he can recreate that impact when they are ready to contend.

Portland must maximize their young talent and add more to get back to the playoffs. They are speeding up the growth of their current players and increasing the odds of adding a higher quality player by tanking out the season.

Every loss increases Portland’s draft lottery odds. They are just one game back of both Charlotte and San Antonio for the third-worst record in the league. The Blazers have a 10.5 percent chance of getting the first overall pick right now, but it shoots to 14 percent if they pass both the Spurs and Hornets. Victor Wembanyama has led his team to three straight wins, and Charlotte has won three of their last ten. If Portland loses out, they could tie for the best odds at the top pick entering the lottery.

The 2024 NBA Draft does not project to be strong, but having the first overall pick is massive in any year. The Portland Trail Blazers are getting valuable experience for their youngsters and increasing their lottery odds with every loss. It won’t be pretty down the stretch, but the franchise is making the right long-term move. Expect the dividends to come as Portland gets back into contention.