In getting overwhelmed by the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday evening, the Portland Trail Blazers fell below .500 with a 18-19 record and have now lost nine of their past 13 games. This is not simply a slump. Changes need to be made. The trade deadline is March 15th, and given what has transpired on the court in recent weeks Portland should be very busy.
They were incredibly frustrated following the loss to the Timberwolves, to whom they allowed 122 points in four quarters. And they should have been. In postgame interviews, Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, Jamal Crawford, and others strongly voiced their discontent with how the team has played. There was a lot of “we’re better than this.” They are right. When the current Blazers team has been at its best, they have looked like a serious contender in the Western Conference. Yet this electrifying and fluid team hasn’t shown up very often. That it hasn’t is why calls for change are rightfully in the air.
Wallace had 25 points, a season-high 14 rebounds, and five steals against Minnesota. He’s a solid player and a joy to watch when he’s playing at this level, but he has been missing in action a lot lately. He has scored in single digits 13 times this season, including four times in the past seven games. This is very perplexing considering the work ethic and aggressiveness he can bring to the table. As a result, despite his talent and what he gives Portland, he should be seen as a trade asset. He has worth on the trade market and could, in theory, translate into a lottery pick in June’s talented and deep NBA Draft.
Trading Wallace would give Nicolas Batum more room to grow and, perhaps more importantly, make the impending free-agent think that Portland wants him longterm. This is just one of many scenarios that could benefit the Blazers in the longrun. Another option is trading center Marcus Camby and point guard Raymond Felton. Camby still has some value, even at age 37, and Felton clearly just isn’t working out.
The point of throwing these possibilities out there is to exemplify just how many trade assets Portland has. Crawford could bring a handsome return. Matthews could, too. The only two players who shouldn’t be on the market are LaMarcus Aldridge and Batum. If no moves are made, the Blazers will have made a big mistake. There is no point to standing pat. If the season ended today, they wouldn’t make the playoffs. They aren’t as good as Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas, or Los Angeles, and they won’t be. They aren’t even as good as Minnesota, as was emphatically illustrated Saturday night.
The current team could rattle off some wins and get back into the playoff picture. They could make the playoffs and win a couple playoff games. But then what? They aren’t going anywhere. Too many teams are their superior. As is, they are stuck in neutral. And to be able to go forward they may have to take a step back. Turning their slew of underachievers into talented, if unproven youth qualifies.
The Blazers may be grasping for straws and trying to comprehend how everything has gone so far south, but the problems are clear: they aren’t playing hard enough, communication is lacking, and their core is flawed. They have a lot of big names. Individual talent isn’t a problem; their inability to play as a team is.
Watching Minnesota perform so well last night was frustrating for two reasons in particular: that they are so cohesive and that their future is far brighter than Portland’s. They have the perfect coach, Rick Adelman, for their unit. The same can’t be said about the Blazers.
The players play. If they want to be successful they have to bring effort game in game out. Yet, it isn’t hard to see that Nate McMillan has run his course as coach. Among his faults, he routinely hasn’t played who deserves to play. Until a recent promotion, Batum had been coming off the bench. Young guards Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith hardly play even though they are far more effective and energetic than Felton. Craig Smith inexplicably just rots on the pine in his warmups after solidly contributing. The list goes on and on.
Portland needs new personnel, a new voice, and a new system. They need to run on offense. They need to play team defense, to rotate, to communicate. They need to box out and crash the offensive glass. It was fitting they were beat so badly by Minnesota because that is the kind of team Portland needs to be. They need youth. They need versatility. They need energy and aggression. They need togetherness and chemistry. They need to have fun. Now, they are a predictable, tight, inefficient team that lacks confidence. There is so much the Blazers, the current 10th seed in the Western Conference, are doing wrong. And it just takes some awareness from the front office to fix Portland.