The Most Important Trail Blazers Stories of 2021: Consolidation Professions
The Portland Trail Blazers have had a volatile and interesting year in 2021. After nearly a decade of stability, the Blazers have experienced seismic shifts that have redefined the terrain beneath them, changing the outlook for 2022 and beyond. . On New Years Day, we’ll take a look back at the most important events that have defined the franchise over the past 365 days. These are the stories that made their year.
The fifth most important story of the year is actually two in one. After sacrificing a first-round pick and Trevor Ariza to win Robert Covington in November 2020, the Blazers went all-in in 2021, making two consolidating trades, culminating in their ‘win now, forget later’ trajectory.
On March 25, Portland traded rising star goalie Gary Trent, Jr. with Rodney Hood to the Toronto Raptors for 27-year-old Norman Powell. Unlike 22-year-old Trent, Jr., Powell had established himself with the Raptors, playing a key role on their championship squad in 2019. His veteran sense and defense were supposed to galvanize the roster.
The hook in the process: Powell was a shooting guard. The Blazers held onto CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons after the trade, leaving little room in the backcourt for a player of Powell’s caliber. In the long run, and make no mistake, the Blazers had to keep Powell long term – their new wing would live at the small forward position.
Having to fight for the touches and play out of position on defense would make Powell’s transition difficult. His field goal percentage rose from .498 to .443 when he joined Portland. His three-point percentage, a Blazers specialty, fell from 0.439 to 0.361. He and most of his teammates were toasted in the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.
The Blazers signed a five-year contract with Powell in the summer of 2021, confirming their engagement, as well as their growing lack of options without him.
It wasn’t Portland’s only major summer move. They also transferred dunk champion Derrick Jones, Jr. and their 2022 first-round pick to Chicago as part of a three-way deal that would earn them 28-year-old forward Larry Nance, Jr., a knife forward. Swiss. Nance, Jr. was supposed to bolster Portland’s failing defense, also providing continuity and perhaps a bit of offensive speed with his passing, athletic grace, and intelligence.
While Nance, Jr. has remained healthy and usable so far in the 2021-22 season, his presence alone hasn’t changed Portland’s defensive trajectory. His offense remains passable, although his once average three-point shot has given up on him. Portland’s scarcity of wins and its lagging defense in the league is no testament to the movement’s effectiveness.
The importance of these professions goes beyond the actors involved. In both cases, including Covington, in all case – the Blazers traded youngsters and / or future assets for winning veterans. Their purpose was clear. The results are less so. At 13-22, the âwinningâ part of the equation is missing. Also absent: more room for movement.
With the Powell and Nance, Jr. deals, the Blazers pretty much traded their last consumable assets south of CJ McCollum, their last cap room chance, and their immediate first-round picks. The Blazers now have seven players on veteran contracts, two near the end of rookie contracts, and a further seven on minimum or two-way contracts.
With half of the roster having little to no value, no choice last year or this (in the absence of lottery protection) and no cap space even if they let all of their expiring players go, Portland has reached the end of its current growth curve. Acquiring Powell and Nance, Jr. was their way to step up. These moves have become the most important barometer of the team’s leadership over the past year, also of its likely end.