The Portland Trail Blazers, fresh off a trip to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, were expected to be among the many teams in the hunt once again for a high seed in the West this season. Instead, due to injuries and some questionable personnel moves this summer, the Blazers are 15-22 and tied with the Grizzlies for ninth in the conference.
The good news for Portland is the West is not nearly as strong as anticipated, and the battle for the eighth seed is currently waged between a bunch of teams that are 6-8 games under .500, so playoff hopes are not dashed. The bad news is they desperately need to make some roster changes and don’t have a ton of ammunition to do so.
Even with some hurdles to clear with salary matching, the expectation is that a move (or multiple moves) are coming to better establish them as a playoff contender this season. Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports said as much on a recent visit with Tom Haberstroh on the “Habershow” podcast, noting he’d be surprised if both Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore remain on the Blazers past the deadline.
Habershow clip: Yahoo! Sports' @ChrisBHaynes on whether Blazers — now 15-22 and outside of top-8 in West — will make a trade to rally around Damian Lillard. Full episode: https://t.co/dDfNWpPXU7 pic.twitter.com/3OUioUgD2n
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) January 6, 2020
It makes sense that those two would figure to be involved in a deal given they are the biggest expiring salaries on the Blazers and, as such, can help in matching with a bigger veteran deal. The question is who they might target. Their clear needs are a two-way wing and frontcourt help, given the injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.
With the latter, the trick is figuring out how much future money they’d be willing to take on for a big man, as someone like Dewayne Dedmon, who has asked out of Sacramento, would make a lot of sense for this season in Portland, but his fit longterm making $13.3 million next year and a non-guaranteed $13.3 million the year after is iffy. Dedmon would give them some spacing help as well as defensive rebounding and rim protection, provided he can regain the form that made him so valuable to the Hawks the previous two seasons, but making the money work with him is a bit tricky.
As for wing help, Marvin Williams would be a terrific fit if Charlotte would be interested in swapping expirings to bring Kent Bazemore back along with a second-round pick for Williams and Willy Hernangomez to make money work. Williams has become a terrific spot up shooter, particularly from the corners, and would provide them with some quality spacing around Lillard and McCollum.
Then there’s Portland’s white whale, Kevin Love, who very clearly wants out of Cleveland and whom the Blazers have reportedly pined after for what feels like a decade. Whiteside, Collins, and Little is a package that might get that deal done, as I assume C.J. McCollum and Anfernee Simons are off limits — not to mention the Cavs needs are much greater in the frontcourt and on the wing. Whiteside makes the money work and if the Blazers are fine taking on Love’s long-term money to keep Dame and company happy, it’s still the destination that makes the most sense for Love right now.
The most shocking thing that could happen is the Blazers staying pat. Whether they make the big move for Love, or try to work more on the periphery for someone like Marvin Williams (or, hell, maybe both!), something almost has to happen over the next month to shake things up in Portland.