Damian Lillard has been one of the best and most consistent point guards since he entered the league in 2012. His quickness and three point shooting has allowed him to thrive in an era of NBA that preaches the “pace and space” offensive philosophy. Although his career in Portland has manifested in just one trip to the Western Conference finals, his tenure in Portland has been competitive, making the playoffs every year outside of his rookie year. However, at 4-7 with a myriad of issues Portland now faces its toughest task of the Lillard era—make a significant move to face something they have not since the early millenium—basketball irrelevance.
After star center Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg in gruesome fashion late last year, the Blazers sought to make a move for a big man in the offseason to replace him. This lead to the franchise shipping out Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard in a trade for Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside. Portland also saw forward Al-Farouq Aminu leave in the offseason for Orlando. This left the team, that had already struggled with depth issues, with a much depleted rotation. This lack of depth has hurt them greatly in the early season.
Through 11 games they sit at 4-7 with a loss to the historically depleted 2019-20 Golden State Warriors. Lillard expressed his frustrations with the loss after the game.
“They played like a team that wanted to win. We got outplayed start to finish, I would say. We had some moments in the game, but we played like we just thought we were going to march in here and win the game, and they showed why they’re in the NBA. That’s a tough loss,” said Lillard in an Associated Press article.
Their lack of depth has killed them defensively, and offensively, they’ve needed to be carried by Lillard just to stay afloat. Lillard has been lights out so far, posting averages of 32.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. Despite Lillard’s historic offensive output, Portland has ranked just 12th in offense while ranking 18th on defense against an easy schedule thus far (ranked 22nd).
These early season struggles have prompted speculation that Portland will make a trade midseason. One major player many speculate Portland will target is Cleveland forward Kevin Love. Love, who grew up in Portland, would provide size as well as additional shooting and rebounding in the frontcourt, which the Blazers need. Another trade candidate that has been suggested is Oklahoma City’s Danilo Gallinari, who would provide a similar blend of size and shooting.
Portland, through the early bit of the season, looks to be forced into making a move. Their lack of cap space makes it unlikely that they will be able to sign free agents in the near future, and with Damian Lillard turning 30 after this year, they may be forced into making larger decisions about the future of their franchise, whether they like it or not. The Trail Blazers play the Toronto Raptors next on Saturday, Nov. 16 in Dallas against the Mavericks.