When reports surfaced that Damian Lillard wanted out of Portland, it didn’t look as bad as it does right now. The team has significantly failed in building around Lillard and is running out of prime seasons. Last week, the Trail Blazers proved that fans should not trust their front office and that may be a trade of Lillard is the best for both sides, as well as a new front office entirely.
If we rewind the clock to November 2020, it appeared the team was trying to build a contender. Instead, all the team has to show is a first-round playoff exit and multiple promising players no longer on the team. The team has made three significant trades in the last 18 months, and the evidence proves that the team got robbed.
November 2020 - Robert Covington
Trade Package: Portland trades Trevor Ariza, 2020 First-Round Pick, 2021 First-Round Pick to Houston Rockets for Robert Covington
One year after making the Western Conference Finals, the Trail Blazers dropped to the No. 8 seed and finished with a 35-39 record. The team saw Jusef Nurkic play only eight games in the regular season, while Trevor Ariza was limited to 21 games. To bolster the defense, the team made a decision to trade two first-round picks for Robert Covington.
Covington was coming off one of the best defensive seasons in his career. He averaged 11.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and a career-high 2.2 blocks for the Rockets. The idea was that Covington and Nurkic could make a formidable frontcourt together, but the results never materialized. In his first full season, Covington averaged 8.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks. By the end of the season, the Trail Blazers ranked 23rd in points allowed per game.
March 2021 - Norman Powell
Trade Package: Portland trades Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood to Toronto Raptors for Norman Powell
At the trade deadline, the team wanted to make a splash, so they made a move to require Norman Powell, who was going to be a free agent at the end of the season. This meant the team had to deal with 22-year old Gary Trent Jr., who was having one of the best shooting seasons of his career. In 41 games, Trent averaged 15.0 points and was shooting 39.7% from the three-point range. Powell was averaging 19.6 points and shooting 43.9% from the three-point range. The team thought the gamble was worth the risk.
When Powell came over, he finished the last 27 games averaging 17.0 points per game, but his outside shooting dropped to 36.1% from the field. His overall shooting percentage dropped from 49.8% with the Raptors to 44.3% with Portland. The team made the playoffs but were defeated by the Nuggets in six games. At the end of the year, Powell then agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract.
January 2022 - Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, 2025 Second-Round Pick
Trade Package: Portland trades Robert Covington and Norman Powell to Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, 2025 Second-Round Pick
Flash forward to the present, the Trail Blazers were able to unload the contract of Powell to the Clippers. Los Angeles seems content with a big three of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Powell starting next season. Along with that, they get a rental in Covington, who is a free agent at the end of the season. In return, the team got two contracts in Bledsoe and Winslow that won’t be off the books until 2023. As for Keon Johnson, the team is hopeful that he can be a young impactful player down the line.
The move helps the Trail Blazers provide salary cap relief, while the Clippers could contend for a playoff spot this season. The Clippers will not have Leonard back this season, while George’s health has been questionable. With that said, the Trail Blazers moved two impact players from their team for two players performing less. This year, Bledsoe is averaging 9.9 points and Winslow is averaging 4.2 points. Powell was averaging 18.6 points per game himself.
February 2022 - CJ McCollum, Larry Nance, Tony Snell
Trade Package: Portland trades CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell to the New Orleans Pelicans for Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, 2022 First-Round Pick, two future Second-Round Picks
The Trail Blazers made another splash before the deadline by deciding to blow up their tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Blazers made the playoffs every season since McCollum was drafted in 2013, the year after the team took Lillard. Despite the regular-season success, the team has just one Conference Finals appearance and five first-round exits.
The move frees up $68 million owed to McCollum for the next two years and replenishes the first-round pick that sent in the trade that acquired Larry Nance Jr. As for players that can make an impact now, the jury is still out on Nickeil Alexander-Walker. In his third season, he is averaging 12.8 points per game. Josh Hart is regarded as a solid defender, but not a definite scorer. McCollum averaged at least 20.0 points per game in seven straight seasons.
Trail Blazers Gave Up: Gary Trent Jr., Trevor Ariza, Rodney Hood, Norman Powell, Isaiah Stewart, Usman Garuba, CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell
Trail Blazers Have: Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, 2025 Second-Round Pic, Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, 2022 First-Round Pick, Two Future Second-Round Picks
Let’s break it down. Over the last year and a half, the Trail Blazers gave up a 22-year prospect in Trent, as well as two outside shooting threats in Rodney Hood and Powell. There were also the two first-round picks that turned into Isaiah Stewart and Usman Garuba. Out of the two prospects, Stewart looks like a player that could have helped the Trail Blazers. In his second season, he owns career averages of 7.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, which includes a shooting percentage of 53.6%.
Given what Portland gave up, you would think they would have a player like Bradley Beal or James Harden. Maybe, the team can make a play for Ben Simmons in the next few days, but even that is a stretch given the circumstances. If you look at the production and the narrative, the Trail Blazers got robbed. The team is supposed to be building around Lillard, but the team now has two future expiring contracts and maybe a decent first-round prospect in Johnson.
This haul doesn’t match up to what the team is saying. Lillard turns 32 years old this summer and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. If the team wanted to build around Lillard, they would keep players like Covington and Powell on the team. The moves also don’t entirely help with salary cap issues by building around Lillard either. Anfernee Simons can receive the qualifying offer this offseason, but he is likely going to get a hefty extension that could pay him $15 to $20 million each season. Not to mention, Jusef Nurki is due to be a free agent, and his future is murky as well.
The Trail Blazers literally traded Gary Trent Jr and Powell, both two talented guards, and didn’t get a first-round pick in return. On top of that, they traded their second-best player in McCollum, who ranks as high as top-3 in several all-time franchise marks. This broke down one of the best duos in the league when healthy. Now, the team has a clear hole on the offensive side.
Their path is clear. They want to bring assets to the franchise. They want young players and picks in order to land a big name. Who that player will remain unseen, but the biggest question now is going to be is what they have enough to land a big name that could help Lillard.
You have to think that Portland has major plans for a player like Simmons or James Harden during the offseason. If not, this is a major disappointment for fans of Portland, but also Damian Lillard.