After another disappointing playoff exit, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are faced with an offseason of puzzling decisions.
The Blazers’ first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets in six games, despite the Nuggets missing Jamal Murray with a torn ACL, adds to a list of disappointing early playoff exits in the last decade. Despite having Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, and LaMarcus Aldridge in the last 10-years, the Blazers have made it to the Western Conference Finals just once, only to be swept by the Golden State Warriors in 2019.
So, what’s next for the Blazers? Read ahead for what decisions await Portland this summer.
Head coaching changes coming
With the Blazers’ front office and head coach Terry Stotts coming to a mutual agreement to go their separate ways after losing Game 6 to Denver, Portland is faced with finding a coach who can mesh well with Lillard but also get the Blazers to make a deeper playoff run.
Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo! that he wanted the Blazers to hire Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd, but the Lillards’ dream was short-lived with Kidd pulling his name out of search on Sunday, according to ESPN.
Chauncy Billups is another name that Lillard reportedly had an interest in being the next head coach, but Billups has no head coaching experience, which could be problematic for an organization trying to get over a seemingly massive playoff mountain that only seems to be growing.
Portland’s front office is expected to conduct a search that will include other candidates, but they seem to be interested in Billips as a potential replacement for Scotts.
The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported on Monday that Lillard doesn’t seem to be making any demands and that Portland’s front office is going to do their job while communicating with their star point guard.
What’s next for Lillard?
Lillard went off in Game 5 for 55 points on 12-of-17 three-point shooting in Game 5 vs. the Nuggets in one of his classic scoring outbursts. It was enough to force a Game 6, but his 28 points and 13 assists in the next game weren’t enough.
Lillard has long seemed content trying to win in Portland without attracting star-free agents to the Northwest or requesting a trade, but could that change?
There is a belief that rival executives in the NBA want Lillard to request a trade out of Portland. But where would be a logical spot for the powerful shooting guard?
The Lakers could use another star to pair with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they don’t have much capital to trade. Miami just experienced a disappointing first-round playoff exit, as did Boston, but are those teams in any better position to realistically compete for a Finals berth than Portland? The Knicks surprised people last season but adding Lillard to a young core with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett make the Knicks a true competitor with the Nets in their own city?
Complicating things even more is Lillard’s super-max contract, which doesn’t expire until 2025. Lillard does have an opt-out after 2024. That’s a lot of money for an organization to take on and to balance — while still being under the salary cap.
Roster holes and attrition
Lillard has always seemed happy in Portland, so there isn’t much of a reason to believe that he won’t be a Blazer next season. But for Portland to really take a step forward, they will need to make a couple of moves this summer.
McCollum is an unrestricted free agent, so Portland will have to resign him this offseason, which is going to be a significant contract. Still, though, the Lillard and McCollum duo hasn’t produced much playoff success, so the Blazers need another piece.
Tim Hadaway’s play in the playoffs with Dallas is sure to bring more interest this offseason in free agency, but is there enough mutual interest between the two parties to make a deal happen?
Enes Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic are nice pieces in the frontcourt, and Carmelo Anthony is still providing the Blazers some quality minutes and good production, but there needs to be another quality piece.
Maybe that could be Hardaway or somebody else, but if Portland wants to end their streak of disappointing playoff exits, they need to hit on a free agent and need to hit a home run in their head coaching search.