Why This Is A Championship Or Bust Season For The Core Of The Portland Trail Blazers [Opinion]

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The Portland Trail Blazers are stuck. The last two years were seen as stepping-stones for the Blazers after the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, but lately, they have regressed instead of progressed. But who’s to blame?

Can we honestly look at Damian Lillard and say he can do better? With Aldridge gone, Lillard has averaged 25 points per game on 45 percent shooting. However, his assists are not where they should be for a lead guard and with that type of talent surrounding him.

Next to Lillard is his partner in crime, C.J. McCollum. While paired together, they can be viewed as dangerous as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but have yet to witness their success. Trade rumors have followed McCollum the past two seasons, and while it may seem outrageous to break them up, it’s a strong possibility it can happen.

The Blazers biggest issue dating back to last season was post play. To remedy that, Rich Quo pulled off a massive trade that landed Jusuf Nurkic from the Denver Nuggets. Since arriving in Portland, Nurkic has been everything the Blazers were missing and yet, they’re still struggling. With the passing of the NBA trade deadline, the Blazers, who many figured would make a move, decided to stand pat and let it all ride this season.

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For instance, why are Evan Turner, Ed Davis, Maurice Harkless or even McCollum still on the roster? With teams like the Thunder, Warriors, and Rockets leading the way, the Blazers stood by and did nothing to alter their chances at a championship. The excuses for a new era are over. The Blazers are tied for the seventh seed with the Denver Nuggets, but only a half-game behind the Thunder for the fifth seed.

What Would Make This Season A Success For The Portland Trail Blazers?

It can’t be just making the playoffs. The Blazers have been in the playoffs the last four years, but never past the Semi-Final round. If they’re to keep their team intact after this season, Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic will need to at least reach the Western Conference Finals. That might be hard to do with the surging Clippers breathing down their neck. However, anything short of that and Quo may be forced to shake things up.

Nurkic will be a free agent in 2018, along with Davis and Shabazz Napier, according to Spotrac. What’s worse is that the Blazers are still paying high-dollar for minimal results with Turner ($17.5 million), Harkless ($10.5 million), and Meyers Leonard ($10.2 million). Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that the team is now trying to figure out a way to pay Nurkic this offseason, meaning that this could leave the Blazers paying three players over $25 million per.

The old saying is that winning cures all, but does it cure a high payroll? While the team is still young, they may have overplayed their hand regarding contracts. The Lillard and McCollum backcourt might be one of the best in the NBA, however, by the beginning of next season, they could easily be no more. This is usually a situation reserved for winning teams like the Warriors or what we’re seeing with the Cavaliers now. A team does well and now has to pay their players for the success. The Blazers haven’t won anything, and yet, they could end up with one of the highest payrolls for next season.

Something has to give, or someone has to go. It’s that simple.