The Blazers are in the midst of the team's worst stretch of the season, having dropped 10 of their last 15 games. The offense is sputtering, the defense is shaking, and players and fans alike have been left scratching their heads as they look for answers. So, how do the Blazers turn it all around? Is it time to blow up the roster and move on, or is it time to hunker down and weather the storm while this slump blows by? The Blazers Outsiders give us their thoughts in this week's Outsiders Roundtable:
JOE SIMONS: My favorite holiday tradition is here: Rip City debating whether or not the Blazers should blow things up and start over! Oh, how I look forward to it each December.
Despite how it may feel, this the best record the Blazers have had through 27 games since 2014. More importantly, the contracts in place don’t allow the necessary flexibility to dismantle the roster and rebuild around Dame. So, shall we make a big trade? I say no. A big trade has to involve CJ, and my stance on the issue hasn’t changed: don’t trade CJ unless the offer is VERY attractive. Shipping off one of the best guards in the league because the fan base is bored will always be a lousy justification.
My approach is to survive December, enjoy the softer January schedule and see where we are at the all-star break. If this team is way out of the playoff picture, maybe something drastic gets done. If they are in the playoff mix, maybe Chief, and his lovely contract, get shipped off and the Blazers try and make a run at the second round in an all-of-a-sudden wide open West. For now, just enjoy the holidays, the occasional win, and let’s regroup on Groundhog’s Day.
CHRIS BURKHARDT: SELL. SELL. SELL. Sorry, I was just checking my stock investments. As for the Blazers, hunker down Rip City! To quote the great Dennis Green, the Blazers "are who we thought they were." That's not to say they are awful, but it is to say they aren't great. Sure, they are playing their worst basketball of the season, but maybe that's a good thing. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, and there is a lot of season left. Nice to get the stinkers out of the way, right? At this point last year we were asking many of the same questions as the Blazers sat at 15-13, the exact same record they have right now. How did they finish? Well, they put together a 13-game win streak to get back in the playoff hunt and finished the season with 49 wins. Sure, they were swept in the playoffs, but the point remains valid - There is plenty of time to turn this baby around. That being said, while I'm not in favor of a blown up, I am in favor of a shakeup. I have said it many times and I will say it again, you know the Trail Blazers have turned the corner as a roster when Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are key bench contributors, not starters. If Neil Olshey can do something to improve the small forward and power forward positions while keeping Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic in town, then watch out. This 5-10 stretch will be nothing but a little blip on the radar of the past... BUT that is a very big "if."
DAN MARANG: Barring a major shake-up I’ve always felt this team runs up against the ceiling of pretty damn good but not great team. Damian Lillard continues to amaze and is charting his path to the greatest Trail Blazer of all time and I can’t help but wonder what he could do with a truly great supporting cast. With that in mind I’ve been a proponent of breaking up this iteration of the Blazers since LaMarcus Aldridge left for the San Antonio Spurs. It’s not that I think that CJ McCollum is bad, or that Jusuf Nurkic isn’t a very good big, it’s just that the pieces don’t fit together optimally. Portland needs to get bigger, longer and more athletic. Even teams like the Memphis Grizzlies who have bucked the trend of pace and space have added guys to their roster in between Mike Conley and Marc Gasol that are more “new age” than “grit & grind.” Jaren Jackson Jr. looks like he was built in a lab designed for today’s NBA. If you look at Portland’s roster who’s the guy that bends defenses outside of Damian Lillard? Who has the gravity and/or the constant mismatch that teams have to account for on every possession? Outside of Lillard and occasionally McCollum, that guy just doesn’t exist. I really like Nurkic as a 3rd option but that lack of a forward, a guy who’s 6’7"-to-6’10" who can cover multiple guys on the defensive end and be more than a singular offensive threat- whether it be catch and shoot, mid-post, driver, etc. there just isn’t a guy in that range who can tick all of the boxes.
These are the options for Portland going forward- hope & pray that Zach Collins hits the hyper-speed drive on his development and he actualizes what we’ve been told- that he’s a young Kevin McHale, LaMarcus Aldridge or Rasheed Wallace. I can’t get to that level of belief, but there are certainly folks who still hold tight to that.
Option two, a perfect scenario falls in Portland’s lap on the trade market- a true 2-way forward becomes available and they want exactly what Portland has to offer without sacrificing the farm to get it. Highly unlikely, but weirder things have happened in the NBA.
Option three, Portland opts to move one of their more valuable parts ie; McCollum, Nurkic and/or Collins. Again, highly unlikely but if things spiral out of control, teams will come calling.
Option four, blow it up. Full nuclear. With the team in a not so solid position with ownership, I see this a zero-percent chance of happening.
This is where the frustration stems from, a lot of these options just aren’t all that appealing. But the clock is ticking on Portland’s season and Lillard’s prime. Something will have to give.
ALEX HAIGH: You’ve been in this for two decades. You’ve had some good times, but mostly rough patches paired with a few bright spots which for some reason, are the only memories you reference when rationalizing why you continue to stay in this thing despite the constant disappointment, anxiety and stress. You keep blaming their failures on the people that sort of raised them, and maybe that’s fair, but it’s not the only reason it isn’t working. You’ve got a long history of making excuses for them, telling yourself that maybe if you were just more supportive, things would turn around. But they don’t. And deep down, you’re a little scared they never will. I’m not describing your loveless marriage, I’m describing your relationship with the Portland Trail Blazers. But what do you do when you’ve realized your fate as a Trail Blazers fan? Do you run? Do you stay, knowing things would always be a little bit worse? (This is sort of a quote from Love Actually, and possibly, your parents’ loveless marriage.) My answer is you just freakin’ deal with it, you bozo. What are you going to do, go be a fan of a different basketball team? You’re going to be a bandwagon fan, really? Actually no, go ahead and root for the Knicks, a bad team, just to prove you’re not one of “those” people. Something weird will happen and in two years they’re going to be amazing and then everyone is going to call you a fraud because the only gear you own is a Nike iPhone X phone case with the Knicks logo on it. Then, the guilt and shame will force you to get on eBay and buy some old Knicks windbreaker that has a ketchup stain on it just so you can keep up the façade? That sounds exhausting. And you know what’s not exhausting? Keeping the same level of exhaustion you’re already at as a Trail Blazers fan. Just stick with the team, something good is bound to happen. What was this blog supposed to be about?