The Portland Trail Blazers are massive winners this offseason.
At first, when I saw the Robert Covington trade, I won’t lie, it fell like too much for Covington. But then I thought about the message it sends to that locker room and its star player, Portland is trying to win the championship.
When I realized that, all I could say was respect.
Damian Lillard is 30, at the peak of his powers and ready to make this push. If it’s ever going to happen for him in Portland, it’s likely now and that’s why you have to love what Neil Olshey is doing.
With Lillard obviously in his prime along with CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic presumably being in their’s, this is a dangerous core in the western conference. The moves they’ve made and the obvious position they’ve declared as being a win-now team has to invigorate Dame.
The Blazers could’ve easily stood pat and played it out but where’s the fun in that?
When the team got knocked out by the Lakers in the bubble, Los Angeles exposed some serious problems with the team. Firstly, their defence was a massive hole in the roster that needed to be addressed if they were ever going to be any kind of real threat.
So, bringing in Covington fits the most obvious need the team has. His elite help defence and work as a team defender will be a much-needed improvement even if his on-ball work has become overrated.
Similarly, the addition of Derrick Jones Jr. will help the switchability of the bench as well as give Terry Stotts some diversity in the lineups he plays down the stretch. I doubt Jones Jr finishes many games for this team but just the idea of adding a unique player like him to go with Zach Collins and Nassir Little, giving them a young and interesting diversity of options in the front court is enticing.
That idea of new options really speaks to Portland’s second most obvious hole against the Lakers as well.
Without one of the big three guys producing at essentially All-NBA levels every night, the team looked very thin. Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic are great but this team needs more than just them to get over the top.
So, surrounding those three with the likes of Gary Trent Jr, Rodney Hood (who they brought back on a smart deal), Enes Kanter, Carmelo Anthony and a hopefully improved Collins, Little and Anfernee Simons has the Blazers on the right track.
With so many offensive pieces, it’s hard to see many teams slowing this one down.
The defence will likely remain a problem, there’s not really a way around that with CJ and Dame not being plus defenders. However, what also can’t be disputed this team is significantly improved. It has a veteran core that can win now and, is quietly building a young developmental core that will hopefully either turn into assets or rotational stalwarts.
Last year it was Trent Jr, this year it could be one of Simons, Little or even new signing Harry Giles. Regardless, Olshey has found a really impressive ability to supplement his veteran core with these young pieces and the likes of Collins and Jones Jr in hopes of continuing to grow as a team.
When you find ways to hit on lesser-known guys like Trent Jr, it gives you the flexibility to go out and trade for a Covington and not worry too much about losing picks.
What excites me most though and pushed me over the edge to write this, is that as the team goes all-in on winning this year, they still make moves for guys like Giles who gives them even more roster flexibility.
The young pieces may never play a substantial role in the playoffs, that isn’t really the point though. They give Olshey the flexibility to either let them grow into pieces who contribute or, be trade chips for the final product.
I still think they’re a piece away from being a true title contender. Coming into this offseason, they weren’t a playoff lock to me and a week of moves later, I think they’re going to be a top-four seed (them not being a playoff lock before is more a comment on the strength of the west than necessarily their flaws).
The team has found a way to go all-in while still building young assets. I want to see them make one more move to get that much closer to the Lakers (see Gordon, Aaron) and with the young pieces on their team, they can now.
Portland is right there in the second tier of the western conference, something that couldn’t be said a week ago.
For their 30-year-old superstar, that has to be something that excites him.