Blazers still plan to build around Damian Lillard, but could trade Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic, report says


Damian Lillard is out for at least the next 5-6 weeks, and the Portland Trail Blazers are at a crossroads. Being 16-24 years old, with the second worst defense in the NBA, they no longer fit the profile of a winning team now. There’s a case to be made that as the February 10 trade deadline approaches, they should become a losing team now.

Generally speaking, there are several ways Portland can kick the rest of the season.

  • Option A: Full reset. Lillard trade. Trade Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington, whose contracts both expire. Be open to everyone’s exchange except 22-year-old goalkeeper Anfernee Simons and 21-year-old forward Nassir Little.
  • Option B: Software reset. Shelve Lillard, get what you can for Nurkic and Covington, be opportunistic otherwise. If there’s a trade involving Norman Powell or CJ McCollum that makes the team worse in the short term but sets you up to be better – or at least different – next season, do it.

Option B seems likely, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. In an appearance on “SportsCenter” on Wednesday, Wojnarowski said, “They’ve been very active in the commerce market. They want to keep building around Damian Lillard. Their interim CEO Joe Cronin, listen, they’ve had some talks about players like Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic. Now CJ McCollum is out, away from the squad, he will come back here at some point. But it’s a Portland team now who I think will continue to try to do business, keep trying to build a team around Damian Lillard, but now you have a team that can certainly struggle and may have the opportunity to start playing for ping pong balls and a position of higher draft this summer. “

Portland got Lillard with the sixth pick in 2012, McCollum with the 10th pick in 2013 and hasn’t had a top 10 pick since then unless you count the time he traded the 15th and 20th. draft pick for Zach Collins’ 10th draft chance in 2017. For a franchise in that position, a one-year drop – like the one that brought Scottie Barnes to the Toronto Raptors – is appealing. It’s the silver lining of Lillard’s injury, provided it doesn’t change his career.

But while Option B allows the Blazers to consider a new and improved squad next season, it doesn’t offer the same kind of clarity as Option A. Supporters of Option A would say a soft reset only delays the inevitable, or worse, a form of self-sabotage. It’s easy to find executives who wish they had hit the rebuild button sooner, rather than let their Superstars go down in value. Option B has all kinds of questions, including a big question about a possible contract extension for Lillard, and is difficult to execute.

Covington, 31, and Nurkic, 27, are two of the more obvious business candidates in the market. Neither has a bumper season, however, and as a rental Portland can’t expect to get huge transports for them. If this bridge season is to be successful, the Blazers will need some lottery luck.

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