Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been planting seeds that he is unhappy with the team’s current roster for over a month. The closest reporter to Lillard, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, wrote a story on April 30th, saying that Lillard didn’t have enough pieces to win a title at the current moment.
Haynes went even further stating that the Blazer’s organization needs to take a riskier approach to pair Lillard up with another bonafide star. Lillard’s sentiments have not changed over the past month as he stated that the team wasn’t good enough to win a championship after losing to the Denver Nuggets in the first round.
He followed the statement up by saying that he didn’t know what changes the organization would make, but it is clear that the current team doesn’t have the right pieces to win a title. Unfortunately for Lillard, the Trail Blazers have to overcome several roadblocks to get him another bonafide star.
Let’s take a look at why trading Damian Lillard is the best decision for the long-term health of the Portland Trail Blazers organization.
Portland is scheduled to be $3.1 to $14.7 million over the cap, depending on if Norman Powell picks up his option. If Powell picks up his option ($11.6 million), the Blazers will be $14 million over the cap and will have to clear approximately $53 million in cap space to be in play to sign one of the star-free agents.
The first step towards clearing up $53 million in cap space is trading CJ McCollum’s $30.8 million salary. The Blazers could clear his salary by trading him to the New York Knicks, who can have up to $72.8 million in cap space.
The New York Knicks’ cap space situation allows the Blazers to trade CJ McCollum just for draft picks as the Knicks can absorb his salary. After the Trail Blazers get McCollum’s salary off the books, they need to find another team for Jusuf Nurkić, scheduled to make $12 million (fully guaranteed on August 3rd).
A potential destination for Nurkić is the Toronto Raptors, who were looking for a center all of last season. More importantly, the Raptors are scheduled to have up to $34.2 million in cap space, meaning that they can absorb his contract. Consequently, just like McCollum, the Blazers can trade Nurkić for a draft pick.
Once they clear McCollum’s and Nurkić’s salary off the books, they will most likely trade Robert Covington, who is scheduled to make 12.9 million. There will be a significant number of takers for Covington because he has a reputation for shooting threes and playing defense, so the Blazers won’t have a difficult time clearing his salary.
Once they clear all these salaries, they’ll put themselves in a position to offer unrestricted free agent Kawhi Leonard a max contract, starting at $39.3 million. On the other hand, if Powell opts out, the team will be $3.1 million over the cap. Consequently, they just have to trade McCollum and Nurkić or Covington to clear space for a max player.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Kawhi is leaving the LA Clippers. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN stated on May 19th that Kawhi enjoys being in LA and is likely to re-sign. Kawhi’s reported decision puts the Blazers in a precarious position, as their hopes of getting another superstar rest on Chris Paul declining his $44.2 million player option.
If Chris Paul declines his option, it opens the door for Lillard to recruit him. However, it is unlikely that Chris Paul leaves Phoenix as they are currently the second seed in the second round of the playoffs versus the Denver Nuggets.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that he will leave his current team in Phoenix to go to Portland, where it could be him and Lillard with a bunch of players on minimum contracts. Consequently, the only way Portland could acquire a bonafide star is via trade.
For instance, a possible candidate to acquire via trade is Bradley Beal. Ava Wallace of the Washington Post published a report on June 2nd that Beal told the Wizards this season that he was only staying with the team long-term if they showed signs of contending for a championship.
Unfortunately, the Wizards were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Therefore, if Bradley Beal still feels the same way, he will likely request a trade from the Wizards. A deal for Bradley Beal would center round draft picks, as draft picks have been the centerpiece of blockbuster trades over the last few seasons.
For instance, the Milwaukee Bucks traded two first-round picks and two pick swaps to the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire Jrue Holiday. Four months later, the Brooklyn Nets traded four first-round picks to the Houston Rockets for James Harden.
Naturally, Washington will want draft picks several years out, as they want to wait until Lillard or Beal are on the decline or go elsewhere. It increases the likelihood of the Trail Blazers getting better-quality draft picks.
The Blazers could capitalize on teams hoarding war chests in a Damian Lillard trade
Several teams are in positions to offer draft picks further out for Beal’s services: Denver, Miami, and Portland. Therefore, a possible Beal trade will come down to the second criteria: what young players do those teams have?
Therein lies the problem for Portland, as Miami and Denver have young players who are more recognizable to the public. For instance, Miami has Precious Achiuwa and Tyler Herro. On the other hand, Denver has Michael Porter Jr. These three players are more recognizable and better than the Blazer’s young players, Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little.
Consequently, it is unlikely that the Blazers will be able to get another bonafide star for Lillard. Therefore, the best course of action for the organization is to trade him because they could either offer a trade package that will allow them to compete right now or in the future.
For example, the Philadelphia 76ers have been looking for a point guard who is a leader, winner, and can run the offense. Damian Lillard fits all these three categories. More importantly, the Philadelphia 76ers can offer a trade package to the Blazers, which allows them to be competitive right now and have assets for the future. This trade offer gives the Blazer’s players, who can help them compete now, in Ben Simmons and Thybulle, and an asset in the future in the first-round picks.
However, suppose the Blazers don’t want to compete right now and go into a complete rebuild. In that case, they could potentially trade Damian Lillard to Minnesota for Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and two to three first-round picks. Anthony Edwards was the 2020 first overall pick, who averaged 19.3 points per game during his rookie season.
The Blazers will have him under control for at least the next nine seasons if they choose to. They also will have two to three first-round picks to select players in the future or possibly trade for another superstar if Anthony Edwards becomes one.
In conclusion, the Portland Trail Blazers’ cap space situation, in combination with the lackluster free-agent market, will make it hard for them to acquire another superstar for Damian Lillard. Consequently, it is best if they go ahead and trade him.