After two consecutive first-round playoff losses, the Trail Blazers entered the 2021/22 season hoping that a new head coach (Chauncey Billups), a new frontcourt addition (Larry Nance Jr.), and a full season of newly re-signed swingman Norman Powell would raise their ceiling.

However, after a 10-8 start, Portland lost 14 of its next 17 games, and the last of those 17 games was the final one of Damian Lillard‘s season, as he underwent surgery to address an abdominal injury that had bothered him for years.

With their playoff hopes on life support, the Blazers changed course. New general manager Joe Cronin – who replaced president of basketball operations Neil Olshey in December following an investigation into Olshey’s workplace conduct – was given the green light to overhaul the roster prior to the trade deadline. Cronin didn’t hold back, sending Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers and Nance and CJ McCollum to New Orleans for future assets and cap flexibility.

Jusuf Nurkic (foot), Nassir Little (shoulder), and Anfernee Simons (knee) joined Lillard on the sidelines as Portland went into tank mode in the second half of the season. Following the All-Star break, the Blazers were 2-21 with an unfathomably bad -21.3 net rating, finishing with the NBA’s sixth-worst record and putting themselves in position to draft a top prospect this June.

 

The Trail Blazers’ Offseason Plan:

When Cronin blew up the Blazers’ roster in February, the common refrain coming out of Portland was that the team wanted to quickly retool the roster, perhaps flipping some of its newly-acquired assets before next season in an effort to get back to the playoffs. The goal wasn’t to launch a full-fledged rebuild, but to reshape the roster around players like Lillard, Little, and RFA-to-be Simons.

Avoiding a years-long tank is a noble goal, but it’s unclear whether the Blazers have the assets necessary to complete a fast turnaround. The packages they received in their deadline deals with the Clippers and Pelicans were somewhat underwhelming, especially after New Orleans made the playoffs and prevented Portland from acquiring the Pels’ 2022 first-round pick (it would’ve gone to the Blazers if it landed between Nos. 5 and 14).

The Blazers acquired Josh Hart, a solid two-way contributor, in the McCollum trade, and got Justise Winslow and Keon Johnson in their trade with the Clippers. Those players could help going forward, but they’re complementary parts, not centerpieces. The most valuable draft asset the Blazers got in their two mega-deals was Milwaukee’s top-four protected 2025 first-round pick, which will have limited trade value, given that it’s considered unlikely to be a high selection.

Theoretically, Portland has a path to significant cap room this offseason, but maximizing that space would mean shedding non-guaranteed salaries (like Hart’s), renouncing key cap holds (including Nurkic’s), and forfeiting the $20.8MM trade exception created in the McCollum deal. In other words, any move requiring cap room would force the Blazers to make some serious sacrifices, so the trade-off may not be worth it.