Blazers Complete Three Trades Before The Deadline, But The Work Of Reshaping The Roster Is Just Beginning

PORTLAND -- The NBA trade deadline, which expired Thursday at noon, might have been the last chance this season for the Trail Blazers to make big changes, but the work of reshaping their roster is far from over.

Sure, the Trail Blazers got three trades off before the deadline, but those moves were just the first step in what could very well be an extended retooling. The now-previous roster had their moments, punctuated by making the Western Conference Finals in 2019, but after two-straight first-round exits and getting the 2021-22 season off to a poor start, the time had come to go a different direction.

“It had become evident to us that the roster had plateaued,” said Trail Blazers interim general manager Joe Cronin. “It was a team that was built to fit a specific coaching style and a style of play that we didn’t feel was conducive to the way Chauncey and myself wanted to play. With that, we were capped out, we were looking at a team that would have been in the luxury tax by $15 million next season with not many ways to improve.

“So it was our decision to do a dramatic shakeup where our goal was to make multiple deals, to balance the roster, to create numerous tools and exceptions and severely pad our cap in order to transact moving forward.”

First, it was sending Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers in exchange or Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a second-round pick, a deal that was made more to shed salary than win games, at least in the short term.

“The deal was important for us because it got us out of the luxury tax this year, which completely reset our repeater clock, meaning we don’t go back in, even if we’re in the tax in future seasons, until at least 2025,” said Cronin. “And the trade also gave us a bunch of leverage in the next deals that we needed to make where teams would no longer hold getting us out of the luxury tax as a part of the negotiation. So that was a good deal for us.”

Then the big move came, with Portland sending CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to New Orleans in exchange for Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomas Satoransky, Didi Louzada, a protected 2022 first-round pick and a couple of future second-round picks.

“Got a player we really like in Josh Hart and a couple of good, young players, including one that’s still here, Didi Loudaza,” said Cronin. Picked up a first-round pick that has a chance to be a lottery pick, a couple second-rounders, created a big, $21 million trade exception and severely padded our books this season and beyond.”

Finally, they sent out two of the players acquired in the Pelicans trade, Alexander-Walker and Satoransky, as a part of a three-team trade that netted Joe Ingles, who is out for the season and in the last year of his current contract, Elijah Hughes and a second-round pick.

“We acquired Joe Ingles, who is a player we really like and we value his Bird rights, and Elijah Hughes, a nice, young prospect,” said Cronin. “Further more, got another second-round pick. The deal also got $5 million off our books next season, which was a goal of ours and a prevailing theme throughout out trades: pad our books for next season.”

So with these three trades, Cronin was able to give the Trail Blazers far more options going into the 2022 offseason than they had a week ago. They weren’t the only deals they set out to make, but in the end, they were the only deals that they felt compelled to make. And while those deals certainly won’t happen in the next few months now that the deadline has passed, it’s possible those talks could result in something once that business can resume.

“We did our due diligence, made a bunch of different calls, made some offers and nothing worked out this time,” said Cronin. “Some of these teams we’ll circle back to in the spring and summer time and other opportunities will emerge between now and then as well.”

So even though they didn’t bring back the level of talent that they sent out in the last week, the Trail Blazers lay the groundwork toward their goal of putting together a roster that can compete for a championship. But Cronin readily admits that shedding salary and gaining tools like additional draft picks and trade exceptions is the easy part.

“All these transactions the last, let’s say 10 days, were focused on next season’s roster,” said Cronin. “Our full intention is: What does next season’s roster look like? We feel like that one will be much more balanced.”

Now, the difficult work of finding that positional balance, managing the cap, finding workable trades that improve the team while also retaining some modicum of flexibility, making the right draft picks and convincing free agents to play in Portland begins.

“When I first got this job Jody Allen challenged us to put out a competitive roster, and this, to us, was the best and most viable way to do so,” said Cronin. “We can be a cap room team, we can be a trade exception team, we can be a midlevel team. We have numerous ways to acquire high-end talent, specifically players that can earn more than the midlevel. So we feel like we’re in a good position to build a roster that fits the way Chauncey wants to play, to create an identity here where we’re defending and playing together, really similar to the team we saw (versus the Lakers).

“Now we have a bit of a blank slate, we’ve done a lot of work the last few weeks and tearing it down is a lot easier than building it up. So now our challenge is to build it up.”