12. Portland Trail Blazers
As whispers grow louder that Damian Lillard, fresh off a First Team All-NBA season, might want out, Portland was unable to improve its roster in free agency.
The most substantive moves were to replace its reserve backcourt of 2017-18 with two fresh faces. Out are Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton, two young scorers whose careers were revitalized for the No. 3 seed Trail Blazers last season, and in are the cheaper Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas. The team also lost Ed Davis simply by refusing to match the salary he took in Brooklyn.
Connaughton remains on the market and could come back to Portland, but it’s tough to follow the team’s thinking to get in front of the market for two risky guards in Curry and Stauskas when the incumbents demanded little on the open market.
Regardless, it will have little impact on the end result for Portland. They hamstrung themselves during the summer of 2016 and have no means of adding players in free agency until the contracts they signed then expire or they give up assets to move them. I don’t think Lillard wants to wait until 2020 to have the chance to sign a superstar buddy.
The Trail Blazers did draft Anfernee Simons with the 24th pick, and he looked like he belonged against Summer League competition despite being a prep-to-pros player by reclassifying into the 2018 class. For Portland to improve, one or more of Simons, Zach Collins, or Caleb Swanigan will have to make a leap.
Finally, Portland was able to retain restricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic on a tradeable four-year, $48 million deal that is significantly cheaper than the extension they offered him last fall. Nurkic is probably a risk on the court in the playoffs against certain teams, which is why Collins’ growth is vital, but he’s making less than many centers worse than him and has helped Portland during his two seasons.
The West got better, while the Trail Blazers stayed the same.