Weighing the Future Against the Present, Trail Blazers Have Key Roster Decisions To Make

By Torey Jones

Contributor, 750 The Game

The Blazers are improving. After an eight game losing streak, Portland is in the midst of a 2-2 stretch which included competitive road losses against a couple of good teams (Milwaukee and Phoenix), a blowout win at home over Utah, and a road win against the Indiana Pacers.

The Blazers two veterans in Malcolm Brogdon and Jerami Grant have stepped up in a huge way. Grant is coming off a 34-point performance against the Pacers and Brogdon’s return from a hamstring injury has the Blazers looking much smoother offensively. Scoot Henderson and Toumani Camara are starting to knock down threes, and DeAndre Ayton has had some big moments lately. While this team looks better in the present, Joe Cronin and the Blazers’ front office need to view these games with an eye towards the future.

Looking ahead, Brogdon and Grant are the two names that will be in trade rumors once we get closer to the trade deadline on February 8th. In the meantime, the Blazers should be able to get a feel for how good this team is with a healthy Anfernee Simons in the lineup. While I still don’t think the team is good enough to make serious postseason noise, I think the organization will give them a chance to make a push towards a play-in spot should they earn it over the next couple of months.

That said, it will be hard to ignore the calls for Brogdon and Grant. The play-in setup has created more buyers than sellers on the trade market and this year looks no different. While the team looks better with Brogdon and Grant playing well, their big performances should also boost their trade value in a market already built to inflate it. Teams will be calling with interest in both players, and the question becomes just how much each guy can fetch in a trade.

The Blazers need to do two things in the next two years: identify when their competitive window starts, and make moves to maximize their chances of winning a championship during that window. While Brogdon’s and Grant’s play will help this team win games in the present, moving on from both players could help Portland win more games in the future. And at this point, the Blazers have to weigh the future against the present and decide just how much they’re willing to struggle now in order to build a better tomorrow.

Grant and Brogdon should be able to fetch one or two first round picks. The Blazers have already stockpiled a few via the Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday trades, but it never hurts to stockpile more at the start of a rebuild. The Blazers could draft their next star with one of these picks, or they could combine them to trade for a star once the young core enters its prime and is ready to compete at the highest level. First round picks are extremely fluid assets that don’t count towards the salary cap, so they give teams tons of flexibility in building out a competitive roster.

Another question that the Blazers have yet to answer is whether or not Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe and Scoot Henderson can all play together effectively. With Simons getting hurt on opening night, Chauncey Billups hasn’t had a chance to experiment with this lineup combination. All three players are young, have star-level upside, and play a guard spot. The Blazers need to figure out if that’s a trio it has faith in long-term, or if they need to move one (likely Simons) at the trade deadline.

While Portland is improving, they still have many long-term questions to answer about their roster. Even if everything falls apart by the end of the year and the team starts tanking, there’s still a lot to learn from this season regarding what this organization needs to do in the future. Portland is in the stage of finding out what they have right now and what they need to do to get to contention. It’s a long journey, but the first few steps matter.

Looking Ahead

The Blazers play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday after already already dropping a 109-95 loss at home to the Cavs on November 15th. Darius Garland missed that game for Cleveland and has since returned to the lineup to form one of the best backcourts in the league with Donovan Mitchell. Then, the Blazers play a road game against the Utah Jazz on December 2nd, who they recently beat 121-105 for their only blowout win on the season.

Consolation games have been announced for teams that didn’t make the in-season tournament’s final bracket. The games will take place on December 6th when the Blazers play on the road against the Golden State Warriors and on December 8th where the Blazers will have a home matchup against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. On December 11th, the Blazers play on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, a game which may see the return of Anfernee Simons. The Blazers next five games take place in 16 days, giving this team a decent amount of rest before a home-heavy schedule in the second half of December.

Torey Jones is a Trail Blazers contributor to 750TheGame.com. He is the founder of Blazers Uprise and his work can be found throughout the season on 750TheGame.com.