The explosive backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum was the main reason why the Portland Trail Blazers have managed to enter the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. Last season, the Trail Blazers finished No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, only to be swept by the DeMarcus Cousins-less New Orleans Pelicans in the first round. After suffering a disappointing season, rumors and speculations continue to swirl that the Trail Blazers may consider trading one of Lillard and McCollum.
With Damian Lillard considered as the face of the franchise, most people believe that C.J. McCollum is likely the trade candidate. However, it seems like the Trail Blazers are not yet giving up on their two superstars. In a recent interview (h/t NBC Sports), Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey said that keeping Lillard and McCollum is still the right choice for the team.
“We’re keeping the core together, knowing Dame and CJ have at least three years left on their contracts, and we give that group the best chance to win without impeding our ability long-term in terms of being into a number that’s completely non-liquid.”
However, despite the outstanding performance of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum almost every night, the Trail Blazers obviously need additional star power on their team. Their roster, as currently constructed, isn’t in a position to beat Western Conference powerhouse teams like the reigning NBA champions, Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets in a best-of-seven series.
Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey may be unwilling to trade Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but he has not made any big move to make his team a legitimate title contender. Dane Carbaugh of NBC Sports believes that the justification for Olshey’s plan is twofold. First, he thinks the Warriors are unbeatable in the Western Conference, and second, he is trying to duck as much luxury tax as possible.
It is not a surprise why the Trail Blazers are already considering the fact that they can’t beat the Warriors. The back-to-back NBA champions just got stronger with the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins in the recent free agent. Even if Cousins is expected to miss the most of the 2018-19 regular season, the Warriors could enter the Western Conference Playoffs with a starting lineup featuring five NBA All-Stars.
The battle for Western Conference supremacy is expected to get tougher now that LeBron James is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Trail Blazers won’t make any big move, it will not be a surprise if they remain as one of the mediocre teams in the NBA.