It’s starting to feel like déjà vu again in Portland. Not the regular kind of déjà vu that piques your interest because it reminds you of a riveting event, but the kind of déjà vu that lulls you to sleep, slowly, occasionally roping you back in with something spectacular. Damian Lillard’s game winning three against the Golden State Warriors was that spectacle, as was Jusuf Nurkic’s 5×5 game against the Sacramento Kings, in which he put up 24 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks, and five steals.
We’ve seen this year in and year out as Portland has stuck with their improve-from-within philosophy. Not to dismiss the bevvy of solid role players on this team, but there is a lack of high-end talent outside of Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Nurkic. Throughout the highs and lows of this season, Portland stands only 4.5 games back of the one seed, occupying fifth place in the Western Conference. No matter the seeding, however, it feels like Portland is facing that same déjà vu of years past. Portland’s problem can be summed up in one question: what is the ceiling of this team?
For but a brief moment every year, these Blazers provide us with false hope that they may have turned a corner and can contend with some good shooting and a little luck along the way. This sporadic feeling of contention, buoyed by indefatigable belief in superstar point guard Damian Lillard, has given Portland reason to believe that internal growth will get them over the hump. It has become clear over the first few months of this Blazers season that they haven’t made that leap- seemingly a step behind the Warriors, Nuggets, Raptors, and Bucks.
It must be said that Damian Lillard is no longer a young point guard. Granted, he may not be old, either, but the clock is ticking. It’s a difficult situation to fix. The Blazers are not bad, but they also aren’t great. You’d rather be where they are now than in the lottery in six months. Portland has nestled into this middle ground and seems content to stay there- in somewhat of a malaise, with no obvious way out. They are not good enough to contend, but too good to think about starting over. Two years have gone by since the Nurkic deal, and Portland finds itself in the same spot it did when “Nurkic fever” first struck Portland- a team with a fighting chance to make it past the first round.
Right now, Portland is stuck in place, and at some point, Neil Olshey, the Blazers General Manager, is going to have to make a move. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later because these Blazers are starting to feel like the West’s version of the pre-Budenholzer Hawks led by Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. Dame is going nowhere, let’s get that out of the way. The three trade pieces that come to mind are McCollum, Nurkic, and Zach Collins. Those are the three players on the Blazers roster that might garner a difference maker in return.
Portland has tried the internal growth route, which hasn’t come to fruition. Free agency? They gave $70 million to Evan Turner, who hasn’t been bad, but not worth the money he was paid. The time has come for Olshey to take a gamble. He’s been here since 2012, and outside of Nurkic, he has yet to acquire a difference maker. In that same span, Portland has found themselves cap-strapped due to the questionable contracts of Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Moe Harkless.
Frankly, I don’t see him lasting another year unless Portland shows significant growth in these 2019 playoffs. Portland isn’t in a bad situation, but its up to Olshey to put the pieces in place for the Blazers to make that leap the organization and fans are desperately waiting for. It’s time that this front office took a chance. If it works out, which I hope it does, kudos to you Mr. Olshey. But, at the very least, it’s time for Portland to take a gamble in order to become a contender.