The Portland Trail Blazers snuck into the playoffs in the Orlando bubble after defeating the Grizzlies in the play-in game. The team was touted as possibly the most dangerous eighth-seed in recent NBA history with the potential to upset the top-seeded Lakers, but they fell to the eventual champions in five games.
Portland looks poised to be a potential playoff team in the loaded Western Conference for next season, but the franchise doesn’t have a real shot at a title with their current roster construction. Superstar point guard Damian Lillard looks as good as ever, and C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony are fine supporting pieces, yet the teams simply won’t be good enough to truly challenge the league’s top teams any time soon.
Lillard says he has no intention to leave the organization, and he is signed to a super-max contract through 2025, but the team should seriously consider trading him and re-tooling for a future run at a title once the conference’s top squads fall off. Here’s a potential trade that would help both Portland and New Orleans in the future, as well as change the landscape of the West moving forward.
Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, 2020 No. 13 pick, Lakers 2021 first-round pick for Damian Lillard
Ingram enjoyed his best season as a professional in his first year away from L.A. He increased to averages to 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game on 39.1% shooting from behind the arc, which earned him his first All-Star selection and the league’s Most Improved Player award, but he didn’t always look comfortable alongside rookie sensation Zion Williamson.
The Pelicans also looked extremely disjointed and unmotivated throughout their play in the bubble, which led to the firing of head coach Alvin Gentry and many questioning how the team’s current pieces fit. Williamson is the player the franchise wants to build around, but the team also has some pieces in place to win sooner than later, so they should look to make a trade if possible.
Lillard is the best option the Pelicans could ask for, and New Orleans — having received a hefty haul by trading Anthony Davis last year — is one of the few teams in the league that could make a realistic offer for Lillard. The Pelicans are also the only ones able to sign Ingram to the super-max contract he’ll surely want as a free agent this offseason, so orchestrating a sign-and-trade with him would make both parties happy.
The 30-year-old’s presence would make New Orleans an immediate playoff team and a possible contender if all goes well, so the Pelicans should look to shed some of their ill-fitting assets for a player capable of leading a core of Williamson, Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Jaxson Hayes. Lillard would take some of the pressure off Williamson and allow him to develop at a more realistic pace, and maybe Lillard would let Williamson become the team’s leader once the point guard begins declining.
For the Trail Blazers, this trade allows them to remain competitive in the near future while obtaining draft picks to truly build a championship-caliber team down the line. There’s little reason for a franchise to waddle in the back-end of the playoff picture year after year, and while it’d be tough to trade away the face of their franchise who’s been so loyal, it’s justifiable from a long-term perspective.
Portland has no discernable path to a title with how the team is currently constructed around Lillard, and the Pelicans likely won’t maximize Williamson’s potential without getting him playoff experience and a veteran leader who can show him how to win. This trade, a true blockbuster and one that might take some serious convincing on Portland’s side, would be a win-win for both teams.
The Pelicans could contend soon with a star forward and dynamic backcourt, while Portland could build around Ingram, Nurkic, McCollum, Ball and their several first-round picks. It’d be an exciting move that’d surely change the current and future standings of the Western Conference.