Trail Blazers interim general manager Joe Cronin tore down the roster around Damian Lillard before the trade deadline – sending out CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Norman Powell and Robert Covington.
Tasked with building Portland back up around Lillard?
Trail Blazers release:
The Portland Trail Blazers today named Joe Cronin as the organization’s 11th general manager. Cronin had been serving as interim GM since December 3, 2021, and will continue leading all aspects of basketball operations.
Since assuming the interim role, Cronin developed a strategy to reshape the Trail Blazers roster with various deals and roster moves that create valuable assets and additional flexibility to improve the team’s competitiveness. Since first joining the team as an intern, Cronin has worked across a variety of front office roles. Now with 16 years of front office experience, including extensive knowledge of the salary cap, proven management skills, player evaluation prowess, and player contract expertise, he will continue to be invaluable to the organization.
Cronin’s challenge is immense. Immediately.
Lillard will be eligible for a two-year, $106,552,284 contract extension this summer. Just a year ago, Lillard was playing like a superstar. But I have spent this season struggling and injured. Good luck determining whether the 31-year-old struggled because he was hurt or is facing a double whammy of problems. Lillard is already locked into a super-max deal for two more seasons (plus a player option). He’d be 35 when beginning play on another extension. It’s never safe to pay any player so much at that age. But Lillard has meant so much to the franchise.
Assuming the Trail Blazers keep Lillard, they should try to win around him while remaining in his prime. But Portland just traded several veteran contributors. Anfernee Simons (restricted) and Jusuf Nurkic (unrestricted) will be free agents.
Simons shined with Lillard sidelined late in the season. That will drive up Simons’ price. Plus, as talented as Lillard and Simons are, pairing small scoring guards provides diminishing returns. See Lillard and McCollum. Yet, Simons is too young and good to let walk.
Longer-term assets can always be flipped for more-immediate help. But those assets aren’t as plentiful as hoped. Though the Trail Blazers have their own lottery pick (No. 6 seed) a second 2022 lottery pick won’t convey from the Pelicans as expected. Instead, Portland will get the Bucks’ top-four-protected 2025 first-rounder – a less-valuable selection.
The Trail Blazers could open cap space. But Cronin already called Josh Hart (who’s on an unguaranteed contract) a keeper, indicating Portland won’t go the cap-room route. With increased payroll flexibility, trades are more feasible, including adding salary that way. But it can never be taken for granted another team will agree.
Possibilities and dilemmas abound for Portland.
They’re Cronin’s problems now.
More on the Trail Blazers
Former Clippers standout Freeman Williams dies Lillard, Billups say they believe they can recruit impact players to Portland Pelicans outlast Clippers in wild play-in, to face Suns in playoffs
Trail Blazers name Joe Cronin, who held interim job, general manager originally appeared on NBCSports.com