The Portland Trail Blazers are the surprise team of the year out of the West, with an All-Star Break record of 36-17. However, the Blazers have struggled lately and were just 4-6 in their last 10 games before the break.
With Portland sure to be a playoff team, coach Terry Stotts has said publicly that he doesn't expect a roster change come the February 20 trade deadline. But with the team flailing and the recent injury to Joel Freeland, the Blazers might be forced into giving up some of their best young assets in an effort to solidify a legitimate chance at getting past the first round, something they haven't done since 2000.
Depth in the low post
Portland has struggled all year with their lack of depth in the low post, despite the rumors of an improved bench. Freeland made a magical transformation over the summer, going from one of the Blazers' worst team defenders to one of their best. His ability to shoot and contest shots without fouling has made him a crucial piece for Portland this season, but his recent injury could see him out until late March.
There was some talk before Freeland's injury that the Blazers could use another wing scorer, particularly off the dribble. In the second quarter of the season, teams have overplayed the Blazers' passing lanes and benefited from the fact that Damian Lillard and Mo Williams are the team's only true threats off the dribble. The return and success of rookie C.J. McCollum seems to have settled that issue a bit, and with Freeland out, the focus has turned back toward Portland's big men.
Just bros being bros, bro.
The combination of Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard hasn't shown the ability to fill Freeland's shoes. Neither of them ready to defend consistently, and certainly not enough for the playoffs. If Blazers GM Neil Olshey makes a move for a wing at the deadline, he will be gambling that Freeland will be productive (and healthy) enough for sustain the Blazers through the playoffs.
Portland has a long-term strategy they aren't ready to part with just yet. There's no shortage of scenarios they envisioned this summer, but jumping out to the hot start they did and leading the West was probably not at the top of their list.
Still, the Blazers won't be looking to add multiple years of salary unless they feel it is in line with that long-term plan. Portland has just six players and $27.7 million in salary committed in 2015-2016, and they will need to re-sign Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and work out an extension for Damian Lillard. Even if they do add a player of significance, they will have to weigh the possibility of that player's cap hit versus the ability to maintain the space they will need in the summer of 2015.
A bare cupboard
The Trail Blazers are in an unenviable position for a team with title contention hopes. As Dave at Blazersedge points out, they have no expiring contracts, near-term first round picks or young talent with proven production value.
That poses a significant problem when looking to get anyone of real impact or worthwhile return considering their future potential and cap significance. What Portland does have is young talent on rookie contracts. Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum are all tantalizing prospects for teams looking to move lower in this year's draft in a rebuilding effort.
While Leonard, McCollum and Robinson are the most valuable trade pieces, it would be hard to see the Trail Blazers trading two or all three of them without getting multiple players back who could reasonably fill their minute production. They are rotation players and, especially in the case of McCollum, are incredibly valuable not just to the Blazers in the long term but in the short term as well.
A likely trade scenario would involve one of those three players, a combination of Barton/Crabbe/Victor Claver and a distant first rounder for an impact player.
It is hard to see how the tight money, talent and draft pick situation in Portland could possibly yield a positive return for them in the near future without impacting their long-term plans. Olshey has been incredibly crafty in constructing this team, but it might be best for him to stand pat at the trade deadline lest he do something rash and ruin the Blazers most appealing element; their chemistry.