After yet another disappointing first-round exit, the Portland Trail Blazers are feeling all the pressure to build a contender around their star, Damian Lillard, before he loses patience.
Over the past week, countless ideas for how the team can improve have been thrown around, but the task won't be easy and they are rather limited in what they can do.
At the moment, CJ McCollum seems like their best chance to shake things up. He's a veteran guard with a versatile offensive game.
Unfortunately, his contract isn't exactly something opposing NBA GMs want to take on at the moment.
Cap-wise, their hands are tied. The Blazers are committed to CJ McCollum for three more years and $100 million; McCollum is a plus starter but most of the league sees him as a slightly negative value at that money. (My BORD$ valuation pegs McCollum as worth $26.6 million for next year). That contract, combined with Lillard’s supermax and a few other smaller deals, leaves Portland with no cap space and just $19 million in room below the luxury tax line – an amount they will likely need nearly all of to retain Norman Powell. Alternatively, they would have only their full mid-level exception to find a replacement, in a market that isn’t exactly brimming with small forwards...
...trading their way out of this situation is theoretically possible, but harder in reality. Finding a buyer for McCollum who can send back equivalent talent that makes less money is a great idea that every Blazer fan proposes; this is not so easy in real life. More plausibly, Jones will presumably opt in to a $9.7 million deal for this season and then immediately become an expiring deal to pair with a future first in search of some immediate help. However, that help likely makes more than Jones, and one wonders how much the Blazers can spend into the luxury tax in this market for this caliber of team.
McCollum and Lillard have been partners for years now, and it's clear that they enjoy working together.
While there are a few shining examples of success during their run together, almost all of their seasons have ended in an early-round playoff exit.
On one hand, if Portland can't find a suitable trade for CJ, they risk repeating the results of the last 5+ years. On the other hand, if they can't get anyone at or above McCollum's level, is it a move worth making?
Whatever the case, the Blazers have some big decisions to make this offseason. Hiring a new coach will be a big step, but it certainly won't be their last.