PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 27: Head Coach Chauncey Billups of the Portland Trail Blazers talks with Shaedon Sharpe #17 during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on March 27, 2023 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

As A Disappointing Season Ends, An Important Offseason Begins

PORTLAND -- The Trail Blazers’ 2022-23 season came to a close Sunday afternoon with a 157-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Now, the real work of putting together a championship-caliber roster begins.

Portland finished their second-consecutive season by missing the playoffs -- they finished the 2022-23 season 13th in the West with a 33-48 record -- and while being awarded a valuable pick in a quality draft could be the reward, those at the top of the organization were adamant after Sunday’s finale that changes must be made in order to ensure better results in 2023-24.

“I think you all know how I feel about losing and about this,’ said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “I don’t like it, you know. I don’t like it. So I’m glad it’s over and hope that I’m never in this position again. We’re going to try to do everything necessary so hopefully that none of us are in this position again because it’s no fun, man.”

While no one in the organization would have touted the 2022-23 team as championship contender, finishing with the fifth-worst record in the NBA was not expected with Damian Lillard returning to full health, the trade for Jerami Grant, the 2022 trade deadline additions of Josh Hart and Justise Winslow and another year of maturation for Anfernee Simons.

But between youth, a lack of depth and an inability to make marked improvement on the defensive end, Portland never seemed to find any real kind of consistency after the first month of the season. The moves made at the trade deadline belied that fact, as did the decision to prioritize developing young players and avoiding serious injuries in the final weeks of the season.

And while those might have been the correct decisions, difficult as they may have been, a similar scenario cannot happen again next season.

“I think one of the thing that we saw that cost us to lose a lot of ball games was our lack of depth and I think a lot of that depth was young guys who weren’t ready to contribute,” said Trail Blazes general manager Joe Cronin. “To me, that was the reckless part where, okay, we have seven or eight guys who are a big part of our rotation but as soon as things started to go awry, if one or two guys got hurt, all the sudden we’re starting to count on players who weren’t ready to help us yet.

“So I think moving forward, we’re not going to be in ‘Okay, let’s try to find a player’ mode or ‘Let’s try to develop a player on the current roster.’ We’re going to be more in ‘Okay, this is win-now mode where the rotation is going to be much more veteran-laden than it was this year.’”

And at least from an asset perspective, the Trail Blazers are in better position this offseason to improve the roster than at any time in the last decade. They will have two first-round picks -- their own, which has a better than 40 percent chance of being one of the first four picks, and the 23rd pick, which was acquired from the Knicks in the trade that sent Hart to New York -- one second-round pick, two trade exceptions, Bird rights on all of their free agents, which allows the team to go over the salary cap in order to retain those players, and young players on good contracts in order to add talent. With those tools, the Blazers have the potential to make considerable changes this offseason rather than simply making moves around the margins.

“I think we’ve done the tweak thing a few times and I think we’ve got to be more aggressive than that, that’s just my opinion,” said Billups. “If we want to actually do right by the best player in the history of this organization, we have to be aggressive.”

Which is why the clock is ticking. Lillard, who missed the majority of last season due to surgery to repair a core muscle injury, just turned in arguably the best statistical season of his career, which quieted any concerns about the longevity of his career. But at 32, he only has so many elite seasons left, so if the Trail Blazers are to put a team around Lillard capable of competing for a championship, they will need to do so soon.

“Timeline-wise, it’s time for us to start moving quicker toward having a roster that’s ready to compete at the highest level,” said Cronin. “If that means using that pick or other picks in deals where it’s getting aggressive to get stuff done, yeah, we’re open minded to that.”