NBA

Do the Portland Trail Blazers have enough talent to compete in the West?

The Portland Trail Blazers have been active since the NBA trade deadline. Last season, they promised to retool around star point guard Damian Lillard and give him the help he needs. They’ve made some solid moves since, trading CJ McCollum for picks and cap space which were eventually used to nab Jerami Grant and bring back the ascending Anfernee Simons. They also have some solid wing defenders in Josh Hart and NBA champion Gary Payton II. That being said, it still might not be enough to compete in the Western Conference.

All of these acquisitions are truly solid moves but something still feels lacking from this team. The expectation is that even more moves would be made to raise their ceiling. It seemed like Portland might trade their pick for more “win now” help but opted to draft Shaedon Sharpe instead. The 19-year-old Canadian projects to be a special player in his own right, but does carry that label of having major “boom-or-bust” potential.

The issue here is that he is so young while the franchise star is in his early 30s. That’s over a decade in age gap between the two. Lillard will be retired long before Sharpe hits his peak. Maybe Portland is trying to plan for the long-term when Lillard ages out, but if their goal is truly to go all in on winning now, Sharpe should be dangled as trade bait.

‘For who?’ is a good question, but as is, the Blazers’ big 3 is comprised of Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant. While it’s not a bad core, it’s also not enough to make a deep playoff run.

Portland Trail Blazers will have a difficult time catching up in the West.

One could argue the Blazers do not have enough to make the playoffs in the first place. Let’s think about it: assuming health, the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are back in the six. The Timberwolves just traded for three-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert. The Phoenix Suns and reigning champion Golden State Warriors led the conference last season. The Dallas Mavericks added Christian Wood to help the dangerous Luka Doncic. The Memphis Grizzlies are reminiscent of an ascending team with loads of talent, like the Oklahoma City Thunder in the early 2010s. The New Orleans Pelicans extended Zion Williamson, who should be back.

They will now have a full season of McCollum along with sophomore Herb Jones and All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, who will only get better. They drafted a great fit in combo guard Dyson Daniels as well. Even the Sacramento kings will now have a full season of Domantas Sabonis, and Keegan Murray looks ready to contribute right away. Let’s recap — that’s about nine teams getting better with only the Utah Jazz getting worse. The Western Conference continues to be an absolute monstrosity.

As it stands, the Portland Trail Blazers are a Seventh or Eighth seed at best with a real shot of being bounced in the NBA Play-In Tournament. Simons can fill McCollum’s role and might even be better, but he’s still just a kid. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic is solid when healthy but he’s averaged 33 games per season since the start of the 2019-20 season. He always seems to be out with an injury to some extent. Grant was clearly a good move, but just bringing him in, re-signing some players and adding some wing depth isn’t going to cut it.

Yes, this might be one of the best teams Damian Lillard has played with in a while, but in the end, it might not even matter.