Portland went 2-15 down the stretch to improve their draft position. But their superstar doesn’t want another youngster.
In Lillard’s exit interview Sunday, he called the Trail Blazers’ season “underwhelming” and “frustrating.” Portland finished 33-49, the league’s fifth-worst record, missing the playoffs for the second straight year. Last year, the Blazers slumped, and responded by trading C.J. McCollum, after Lillard had season-ending abdominal surgery – which he’d delayed because of his wedding and honeymoon.
Portland added raw rookie Shaedon Sharpe with the No. 7 pick. Sharpe is a great leaper, which has led to some great offensive rebounding numbers and spectacular dunks.
The problem is everything else. The 19-year-old Sharpe’s defense is not NBA-caliber, he’s not a good dribbler or passer, and he has a slow first step. He also didn’t play any games in college in 2021-22, so he’s really learning on the job. Sharpe could certainly develop, but he’s 13 years younger than Lillard, who turns 33 this summer.
The same would be true for whoever is available when the Blazers pick this summer. Unless their lottery luck gets them French super-prospect Victor Wembanyama, Portland is looking at adding another teenager. Lillard doesn’t want to wait for these kids to develop, no matter how much upside they might have.
The Blazers want to re-sign free agent forward Jerami Grant, but they’re going to need to be more aggressive to return to the playoffs, much less contend. Bringing back Grant will eat up Portland’s cap space, so they’ll need to trade players like Sharpe or Anfernee Simons if they want a win-now veteran, perhaps along with this year’s lottery pick.
Still, they don’t have a hugely appealing set of assets for trade – unless they move up in the draft. And if the ping pong balls don’t go their way, the only way left to “do right” by Lillard may be to send him somewhere he can win.
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