Where Trail Blazers Stand One Week Before the Trade Deadline
A pivotal week for the future of the organization is coming up. Here's what we know about where things are.
We're in the middle of my least favorite week of the NBA calendar.
There are no trades yet—just a lot of waiting and a lot of rumors. And with that comes a lot of stress for everyone. For those of us on the media side, it's trying to chase this stuff and figure out which whispers we hear are real and which ones are posturing. For you, the fan, it's spending hours killing time on the Trade Machine wondering why your team's GM won't just do something already. For the GMs themselves, there are a lot of moving parts to juggle—multiple talks about the same players with different teams, figuring out what works under the salary cap, mitigating leaks and leverage plays.
It's even worse for players. Even the guys that swear they don't read social media or pay attention to this stuff are lying. Everyone in every locker room sees the same rumors you see and knows who's on the block, even if they don't talk about it in the open. They hear you screaming online to trade them. Some are affected by it, some are not. The players who know they're being traded know that means they're going to have to move their families to a new city on short notice. You can make the argument that NBA players get paid a lot of money to deal with these headaches, but that doesn't mean they're not real.
It makes everyone in the building on-edge, especially within teams in situations like Portland's, where losses have piled up lately and everybody knows changes are coming. Even Damian Lillard, the most even-keeled player I've ever covered, snapped at a reporter a couple weeks ago for asking a question about the trade deadline after a bad loss to the Lakers, and he's the only guy on this team that knows he's not getting traded. Everyone's feeling it, and everyone would rather it be in the rear view.
You can always tell it's this time of year by who's in town. Lately, Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin has had just about his entire front-office staff, many of whom are usually out scouting college or NBA games this time of year, in the arena and at the practice facility. Assistant GMs Andrae Patterson, Mike Schmitz and Sergi Oliva have been here, along with director of basketball planning and strategy Asjha Jones, who manages the team's salary cap. This is the time for everyone on the staff to hunker down and focus, and also the time for us to read way too much into which executives from the visiting team's traveling party we spot on the court before a game talking to someone from Portland's front office. The feeling of tension and uncertainty is inescapable.
That's why I hate this week. Being around this much unspoken stress just creates more stress, and all anyone can do is wait. The real action happens in the two to three days before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. For now, it's just wishing the next seven days would go by so whatever happens is done and over with, and knowing it's going to have to wait a little longer.
The Blazers are in a very different spot now than they were a year ago. In February of 2022, they had already made the decision to shut Lillard down for a core muscle surgery and pivot the rest of that season towards what they called "player development," which really just meant losing a lot of games to get a high draft pick. Everyone knew C.J. McCollum was being shopped, along with other high-priced veterans like Norman Powell and Robert Covington who weren't going to be part of the long-term plan and didn't click with first-year head coach Chauncey Billups. The organization was still picking up the pieces from last winter's investigation and eventual firing of president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, and it wasn't clear how much authority Cronin would have to make a major trade as an interim GM still trying to earn the permanent job.
One year later, Cronin is fully entrenched as the top decision-maker and has built out an entire new front-office staff, radically changed the roster and signed Lillard to a huge extension that all but ensures he'll retire as a Blazer.
Now comes the hard part: taking a roster with some things to like but a long, long way to go to become elite, and reshaping it again into whatever the contending version of the final years of Lillard's prime will look like.
Some of that work will get done within the next week, but far from all of it, with many of the biggest changes still to come after that. With seven days to go, it's a good time to take stock of what I know and what I've heard.