It’s the end of an era in Portland. The Trail Blazers are sending CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Josh Hart, Tomás Satoranský, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Didi Louzada.
New Orleans is also sending a protected first-round pick and two second-round picks to Portland. Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell also will go from Portland to New Orleans. The CJ and Damian Lillard backcourt is no more, and now the question is what’s next for Lillard?
Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum record together
Regular season: 289-226 (.561)
Postseason: 19-38 (.333)
(via @bball_ref )
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) February 8, 2022
The duo was very good during the regular season, but come playoff time their lack of size and defense were hurdles they couldn’t overcome. They had the one run to the conference finals in 2018-19, but that was due to some seeding luck. But they still advanced, so kudos.
It’s clear the Trail Blazers are in rebuild mode and hope that cap space, draft picks and movable contracts are enough to not only convince Lillard to stay but also lure in other free agents.
Portland's plan is to fully reshape roster around Damian Lillard now. Portland created a $21M trade exception today, potentially $60M in salary cap space this summer, multiple draft picks and assets via Pels and Clippers trades. Plan is to pursue high-end talent now, not retreat.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 8, 2022
Portland isn’t exactly known as an NBA free agent destination, and even with Lillard why should stars want to team up with him? This isn’t a knock on what Dame has accomplished in his career. He’s been excellent and an All-NBA level performer. But he’ll be 32 at the start of next season, coming off an injury, and he’s barely 6’1″, despite what the team guide says.
When small guards start getting hurt in this league, the dropoff is often seismic.
Now Lillard could get on that Chris Paul plan and lengthen his career, and because so much of his game is predicated on shooting he should be able to still produce at a high level. It’s just that history has shown us remaining elite consistently past age 32 is no easy feat.
But the injury to Lillard, and McCollum before his recent return, allowed for the development of Anfernee Simons. Does interim general manager Joe Cronin envision a Lillard-Simons backcourt? Wouldn’t that be a Lillard-McCollum redo? That backcourt would have the same size and defense issues as well.
Then there is the status of the team as a whole. They are still dealing with the lingering effects of the Neil Olshey fiasco. Team governor Jody Allen might want to sell the franchise; there have been rumors.
This is a murky situation, and if Lillard wants to compete for a title in these latter stages of his career, it doesn’t seem like Portland is the place to do it.
If you’re Lillard betting on Cronin making the right moves, free agents wanting to come to Portland, and hitching your championship hopes on a developing Simons and a young roster are all gambles. Maybe it’s best for both parties to make a trade happen.
That, of course, presents another set of problems. What team has the salary to match the remaining $88 million he’s owed? Will this hypothetical team have players and draft capital the Blazers would want?
Not to mention, he has a player option in 2024-25, his age-34 season, for $48 million. He will most certainly be opting into that. It’s the end of an era, but this situation is far from settled in Portland.
More news from our partners: