5. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers enter the 2018-19 season on precarious footing.
The Blazers were the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed last year, but the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept them out of the playoffs in a first-round beatdown. Prior to that, three-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard reportedly met with team owner Paul Allen in January to “gather an understanding of the organization’s direction,” according to ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes.
Lillard didn’t request a trade during that meeting, per Haynes, but he “made it clear…that he has championship aspirations and wanted to fulfill those lofty goals during the remaining years of his prime window.” Getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs likely didn’t convince Lillard that the team is equipped to contend for a title as currently constructed.
While the rest of the West engaged in a rapidly escalating arms race this offseason, the Blazers had no choice but to largely stand pat, as misguided splurges during the summer of 2016 limited their ability to bring in impact free agents. Instead, they swapped Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis — much to Lillard’s chagrin — for Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas.
In early July, Lillard quashed concerns about him growing disenchanted with the franchise, telling reporters, “I’m not unhappy. I love where I live. I love the organization. I love our coaching staff. I love where I am.” He recently doubled down on those comments in a conversation with Michael Scotto of The Athletic, saying it would be “an honor to be a lifetime Blazer.”
Both Lillard and CJ McCollum are signed through the 2020-21 season, so the Blazers aren’t under the gun to make a decision on either player right away. But if Portland misses the playoffs and either Lillard or McCollum begin to vocalize more frustration with the organization’s direction (either publicly or privately), it could spell the end for that star-laden backcourt.