By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the otherworldly performance Damian Lillard gave last night in a losing effort — 55 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, three blocks. He’s the first NBA player ever — EVER — regular season or postseason, to post at least 50 points, 10 assists, and 10 three-pointers made in a game. And yet, Portland lost.
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.
See, the thing about the Blazers is that they never win. I know this as a born-and-raised Oregonian and de facto Blazers fan. In recent years, since Lillard entered the league in 2012, they’re always close, in large part because of Lillard and the fact that he has ascended into the god-like echelon of clutch shooters in NBA history that includes Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Kobe Bryant, and the like. No matter the level of individual excellence, though, the impending frustration of an early playoff exit looms large.
The Blazers bench has been absolute crap in the playoffs, like every year. Superstars are fine and well, but depth matters. In the 72 minutes that have been starters vs. starters in this Blazers/Nuggets series, the Blazers starters have a +10.4 net rating over the Nuggets. If they had some help and some talented depth, they might just be good enough to win this thing.
Portland is a cloudy, rainy little corner in the Pacific Northwest that thinks they’re a big city, when really they’re just one giant coffee house/brewpub. Being a smaller market with the perception of bad weather and no booming nightlife like Miami or Los Angeles, Portland has never been able to attract big free-agent signings. General Manager Neil Olshey has tried, and has drafted well, but while other teams are able to assemble superstar-driven teams like what’s currently happening in Brooklyn and Los Angeles (both L.A teams, actually), Portland is relegated to trying to get lucky in the draft and taking the cast-offs of others.
The Blazers aren’t out yet, but the numbers are pretty frightening for their current situation. In the history of NBA playoffs, the team winning Game 5 and breaking a 2-2 series tie has gone on to win the series 82.5% of the time (174 out of 211 teams). Nothing is impossible, but it doesn’t look good.
I know the Rip City faithful don’t want to hear this, but it might be time to trade CJ McCollum. The running mate for Lillard, McCollum is a gifted playmaker and creates his own shots well, but he lacks consistency. Lillard needs help in the form of a true Robin to his Batman — someone that can set him up while complimenting him (like, maybe on defense, for a change?). He doesn’t need another scorer/creator. In fact, I don’t think he needs another guard. What Lillard needs is a dominant power forward.
Want to trade away McCollum in a way that Blazers fans will embrace? Here’s an idea — package him for the young Domantas Sabonis, son of former Blazers great Arvedis Sabonis. The fifth-year power forward averaged 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists this season, and is a great passer just like his dad was. Think along those lines.
I love Christian James McCollum. This is nothing against what he is and his talent level, which at times borders on the absurd. This is about the Blazers being a team that is always good, but never great; this is about a team that feels like they never quite live up to their potential. Much like the Green Bay Packers damn near every year, you expect the Blazers to compete, but they always fall short.
If the Blazers want to finally bring a championship back to Portland for the first time since 1977, they need to do whatever it takes to surround Lillard, a truly elite weapon, with what he needs to make a run at it. Dame Time is remarkable, but so is winning.