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Jan. 29, 2023

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Blazers look forward after multiple trades shake up roster

Five players from opening day lineup have been moved

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Recently acquired Pelicans' guard CJ McCollum (3) acknowledges the fans as he steps onto the court for the first time in New Orleans prior to tip off against the Miami Heat on Thursday.
Recently acquired Pelicans' guard CJ McCollum (3) acknowledges the fans as he steps onto the court for the first time in New Orleans prior to tip off against the Miami Heat on Thursday. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle) Photo Gallery

Guard Anfernee Simons said it has been strange in the Trail Blazers’ locker room as name plates suddenly disappeared from individual lockers in the days leading up to the NBA trade deadline.

At one point, Damian Lillard’s locker was all alone down at the end of the room.

“Dame is like way at the end,” Simons said. “And between that, there was just nobody. It’s crazy. Then again, it’s the NBA.”

It’s been an extreme makeover for Portland, which made three multiple-player deals ahead of Thursday’s deadline. Five Blazers who played in the team’s opener against Sacramento are no longer with the team, including three starters.

“Now we have a bit of a blank slate,” Portland interim general manager Joe Cronin said. “We did a lot of work the last few weeks, and tearing it down is a lot easier than building it up. So now our challenge is to build it up.”

The biggest move was sending guard CJ McCollum to New Orleans, marking the end of an era in Portland. McCollum was drafted by the Blazers in 2013 and became half of a formidable backcourt with Lillard.

Portland made the playoffs for eight straight seasons, but the team was knocked out in the first round five times. The best the Blazers did in the postseason over that span was the Western Conference finals in 2019.

This season, the Blazers struggled with both Lillard and McCollum sidelined at times by injury. Playing under first-year coach Chauncey Billups, Portland is 22-34 and in 11th in the Western Conference standings.

“It had become evident to us that the roster had plateaued,” Cronin said.

Given that Portland was also over the luxury cap threshold, a shakeup seemed inevitable. So that’s what Cronin did.

It started last Friday when the Blazers traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, rookie Keon Johnson and a second-round pick in 2025.

McCollum was dealt along with Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to New Orleans on Tuesday in exchange for forward Josh Hart, and guards Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Didi Louzada, as well as draft compensation in the form of a 2022 protected first-round draft choice and two future second-rounders.

And the day before the deadline, the Blazers acquired injured forward Joe Ingles in a three-team trade with the Utah and San Antonio.

Portland also got Elijah Hughes and a second-round pick from the Jazz, who received Alexander-Walker from Blazers and Juancho Hernangomez from the Spurs. Portland sent Satoransky to San Antonio, which also got a 2027 draft pick from Utah.

Cronin said that while the financial implications were apparent, another issue that pushed the Blazers into a shakeup was Lillard’s injury.

The six-time All-Star has had an abdominal issue that he aggravated during the Olympics last summer. He had surgery last month and there is no timetable for his return — although Cronin said it’s likely he sits out the rest of the season.

“You know, we had kind of pushed all our chips in on that roster,” Cronin said. “And it was very apparent that we were going to be stuck very soon. So the thought was OK, let’s get ahead of this and let’s back out of it.”

Cronin said the Blazers put out feelers to nab a big-name player before the deadline, but no moves made sense. Instead, the Portland will look forward to the offseason.

“We have a bunch of different tools,” Cronin said. “We can be a cap room team. We can be a trade exception team. We can be a mid-level team. We have numerous ways to acquire high-end talent, specifically players that can earn more than the mid level. So we feel like we’re in a good position to build a roster that fits the way Chauncey wants to play.”

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