- G Scoot Henderson (draft), F Kris Murray (draft)
- None significant
After giving conflicting signals initially, by March there was no question where the Blazers were headed, and the answer was “in the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes.” Portland lost 15 of 17 to end the season, positioned for a chance to Draft a generational 7-foot-5 Frenchman (but, the Blazers didn’t get the No. 1 overall pick, landing instead at No. 3).
Once again, star guard Damian Lillard was tremendous, averaging 32.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game while making the All-NBA Third Team. His impact on the Blazers was typically heavy. That said, he only played 58 games and sat out the home stretch once it became evident Portland wouldn’t make the AT&T Play-In Tournament.
The Blazers had three players — Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant — average at least 20 ppg in 2022-23. But center Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t stay healthy and began a slow decline on the court when he did play. The Blazers ranked among the NBA’s worst defensive teams, finishing 28th in defensive rating (after finishing 29th in that category in 2021-22). Also, rookie Shaedon Sharpe was inconsistent, though his potential – when he did play well – seemed high.
Over the last few months of the season, the conversation with the Blazers was dominated by Lillard’s future and whether he would finally ask for a trade in the offseason. The answer to that came rather swiftly.
You know how Lillard famously taps his wrist, a symbol that became his endearing signature after hitting a big shot? Well, “Dame Time” meant something different this summer: It involved asking the Blazers how much longer before they could make good on his trade request.
Yes, the final moments approach for Lillard in Portland after more than a decade. Any romantic notion of him spending his entire career with one team, like Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, fell victim to modern-day NBA realities. Even Lillard reached the end of his patience with regard to the Blazers giving him enough help to win a championship.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 20, 2023
Everyone saw this coming, but still. The request was made before the Draft, giving the Blazers some options. But Lillard only wanted them to consider one option: the Miami Heat, his preferred destination.
This put Joe Cronin, the GM, on the spot: Would he pacify Lillard and reward him for all the glorious years in Portland? Or do what’s best for the Blazers? Cronin reportedly embraced the latter and, because he wasn’t overwhelmed by Miami’s package, explored other teams and suitors.
This is where it got messy. There was word from the Dame camp that he might not report to any team except Miami, in an attempt to sabotage and/or manipulate the trade market. The league stepped in and told him, in so many words, to honor his contract via labor agreement rules or else. Lillard said he would.
As the summer progressed, there was still no deal. And why rush? Maybe Miami either ups the ante or finds a third party to get involved. Or maybe another team gives more. Or maybe nothing happens, Lillard reports to the Blazers and this gets revisited before the trade deadline.
That last option seems unlikely, if only because the Blazers drafted his replacement. Henderson is NBA-ready after seasoning with G League Ignite; Portland is anxious to move forward and give him the ball on Day 1. The Blazers were blessed when Henderson was still on the board at No. 3 after the Charlotte Hornets, choosing second, elected to let him fall.
With their second first-rounder, Portland took Kris Murray, the twin brother of Kings forward Keegan Murray. Kris is not as good a shooter, at least not yet.
Finally, the Blazers handed Grant a fortune in free agency: Five years, $160 million, and did so before Lillard made his trade request. Most league observers thought the Blazers did this only for Lillard with hopes that he wouldn’t ask for a trade. Well, we know how that turned out. And now, Dame Time keeps ticking.
> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule
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