It is looking like the Portland Trail Blazers will experience a third straight disappointing season following their trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2018-19.
Even though they were swept by the Golden State Warriors that year, Portland had hope.
Jusuf Nurkic was a dominant two-way force.
And they appeared set to contend in the West for the foreseeable future.
Instead, they fell back down to Earth the following season, going 35-39 before bowing out in the first round.
Another first-round exit awaited the following season, which now brings us to the current year.
As it stands right now, the Trail Blazers are 18-26 – 10th in the Western Conference.
McCollum missed significant time due to a collapsed lung.
And they are shutting down Lillard indefinitely as he recovers from abdominal surgery.
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 15, 2021
With the trade deadline exactly three weeks away, rumors are swirling that Portland will attempt a one-year retooling.
Send out expiring deals at the deadline to bring back pieces to shape the roster for next year.
Here are the three most likely players to be shipped out before the February 10 deadline.
3. Jusuf Nurkic
Nurkic was brought over from the Denver Nuggets in 2017 in a trade.
He has been one of Portland’s most impactful players during his six seasons with the team.
While Nurkic’s offensive game is limited, his impact on the defensive end is part of the reason why the Blazers don’t have the league’s worst defense.
He is in the last year of the four-year, $48 million deal he signed in 2018 and made comments at the end of last year about wanting an expanded role.
However, he will be eligible to sign a four-year, $64.5 million deal this offseason.
Especially when $92.6 million is already set aside for Lillard, McCollum, and Norman Powell.
With all that said, Nurkic should still fetch something of value on the trade block.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 20, 2022
He is averaging 14 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game this year.
While Jusuf doesn’t provide much rim protection, he is intelligent enough to anchor a defense.
On a team with better perimeter defenders who is less aggressive defending pick-and-rolls, his rim protection may even improve.
And he is only 27 years of age.
Portland could keep him around but would probably be better off packaging him in a deal and avoiding his next contract.
2. Robert Covington
Robert Covington is another player in the final year of his contract with the Blazers.
Covington was brought over from Houston after the 2019-20 season in exchange for Trevor Ariza and two first-round picks.
At the time, it seemed like a brilliant move.
Portland lacked wing defenders and Covington was highly regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
His on-ball defense was not exceptional, but his help defense off-ball was sensational.
Active hands and a long wingspan led to numerous deflections and turnovers.
Covington seemed like a great fit in Portland.
Fast forward 14 months, and that is no longer the case.
After starting the first 26 games, Covington fell out of the starting lineup for 11 straight games (three were due to COVID protocols).
Larry Nance Jr. will start at power forward in place of Robert Covington tonight against Minnesota, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA . Covington had started first 26 games, averaging 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 26.8 minutes.
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) December 12, 2021
He’s averaging a career-worst 7.7 points per game on 39.7 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from deep.
RoCo is also attempting only six threes per 36 minutes – the second-lowest figure in his career.
He is overtaxed as the primary perimeter stopper and his help defense has struggled because of it.
With this being the last year of his deal, the Trail Blazers should look to flip him to a contender.
Even in a down year, teams will still value Covington as a “3-and-D” wing.
His next deal may be even more expensive than his last and the Trail Blazers should not want to foot that bill.
1. CJ McCollum
Lastly, we have McCollum, the Robin to Lillard’s Batman in Portland for the past seven seasons.
Since exploding onto the scene in 2015-16 as the NBA’s Most Improved Player, McCollum has averaged 20+ points per game in every season.
Leaving out his first two years in the league where he hardly played, he is averaging 21.8 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting from the field and 39.8 percent from deep.
He chips in an additional 3.9 assists per game but is mostly tasked with secondary playmaking duties next to Dame.
Together, he and Lillard have formed one of the most dangerous offensive backcourts in the league.
But it is clear these two cannot win it all while playing together.
Removing this year, the Blazers have made it to the playoffs every year McCollum and Lillard have started together.
That has yielded four first-round exits, one loss in the Conference Semifinals, and the loss in the Conference Finals to the Warriors.
McCollum is now 30 years old and Lillard is 31 – the window is not opening any further.
If Portland wants to try and capitalize on Dame’s prime, they will have to ship out McCollum.
Two players that are extremely close but just can’t get over that hump come playoff time.
DeRozan was flipped for Kawhi and the rest was history.
That’s not to say the Trail Blazers are assured a Finals trip if they trade McCollum.
But it is clear they need to try something.
The #Trailblazers are going to be active at the trade deadline surrounding CJ McCollum and Norman Powell in wake of Anfernee Simons’ breakout season. Some teams interested are the #Knicks and #Cavaliers.
— Sean Wright (@SeanWrightNBA) January 21, 2022
With two more years on his contract after this season is over, McCollum will have plenty of trade value.
It is time for Portland to see what they can fetch.