There are many who believe the seven-time All-Star was not given the supporting cast he deserved over his 11-year tenure in Rip City, which can make it difficult to get excited about a young, promising core. The latest details of Lillard's divorce from the Blazers will only cut deeper into fans' hearts. Moving on from a universally beloved franchise pillar will take time, to say the least.
But there are still pressing matters that demand the Blazers' attention. The franchise cannot afford to be bogged down by the external aftermath of their massive trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. There are internal ramifications that must be immediately addressed. Fortunately, the organization will have an optimal opportunity to begin that long and challenging process next week.
With Portland still buzzing following the Damian Lillard trade, it can feel overwhelming to sort everything else out. That's what we're here for, though. So take a break from grieving, as we dive into the 3 burning questions the Blazers must answer heading into 2023-24 NBA training camp.
3. Can this young core block out all the noise?
Regardless of how fans feel about ownership and general manager Joe Cronin right now, one has to pity the Portland players. Highly-touted rookie Scoot Henderson is probably just excited to take the first step of his NBA journey and focused on getting up to speed before opening tip-off. He will now be endlessly compared to Lillard, as drafting him signified the end of an era for many people.
Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe will also be placed under the microscope, as the front office seemed to prioritize their growth over Tyler Herro. If they struggle or take a step back in their development, the Blazers will be mercilessly roasted with the guards indirectly being placed in the crossfires.
These are professional athletes who have already been warned of the dangers of listening to all the outside chatter. Still, though, the noise surrounding Portland has never been louder. Even a mentally-tough individual could be rattled by all the speculation, drama and pressure. There is reason for long-term optimism, but head coach Chauncey Billups and his team will have many potholes to dodge before this road is paved to its full potential.
Trail Blazers new squad:
Solid young core. pic.twitter.com/vD6GZah5R5
— StatMuse (@statmuse) September 27, 2023
2. Will Deandre Ayton become fully unleashed with Blazers?
Deandre Ayton was a man among boys while dominating for the Arizona Wildcats as a freshman in 2017-18. Well, at least until the NCAA Tournament. Despite being productive overall, the big man was stunned by Buffalo in the first round. His inconsistencies and occasionally passive nature remained after he was selected as the top draft pick by the Phoenix Suns.
Again, the numbers were good (averages a double-double of 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds for career), but Ayton did not come through in the big games the way fans demanded. Now, he has a chance to hit the reset button in Portland.
Still only 25 years of age, the Trail Blazers' new acquisition has a strong chance to be the most valuable return piece in the Lillard trade. He can be a crucial anchor for this young group as it grows into its own. Ayton knows what its like to be on a 60-loss afterthought and a 60-win juggernaut. Nothing will surprise him.
Most importantly, though, the Bahamian center can get away from the lingering tension that defined the end of his run with the Suns. Deandre Ayton needs to get back to making it all about basketball. He will have the luxury of playing with an explosive backcourt who should set him up for plenty of success.
The rest will be on him, but there are more reasons than ever to believe that this great talent can finally blossom into the powerhouse so many scouts prognosticated him to be years ago.
1. What will happen with Jrue Holiday?
Although it might not be the biggest concern in terms of the Blazers' big-picture outlook, the Jrue Holiday situation holds the most immediate significance. The 2019 NBA champion's inclusion in the Lillard deal suggests either two things. One, the team can utilize his experience and wisdom to benefit guys like Henderson and Sharpe. Or, the more likely scenario, Portland can flip him for additional draft picks or a player who more practically fits the current roster.
There is an active trade market for the two-time All-Star, so Cronin should be able to get something done before training camp begins on Oct. 2. Multiple executives should see his elite defense (three-time All-Defensive First Team) and efficient 3-point shooting (38.4 percent last year) as an impetus to a championship run, just as the Bucks did a couple years ago.
Brian Windhorst's short list on which teams may make a move on Jrue Holiday:
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) September 28, 2023
It behooves the Trail Blazers to act swiftly, considering their main goal is to develop their young guards. The more time they share on court together, the quicker they can push past the inevitable growing pains. Since Holiday commands high usage, shipping him out to a contender makes the most sense. Though, the 33-year-old undeniably makes Portland a much better team in the present with legitimate NBA Play-In aspirations.
The franchise is facing uncertain and sad times, but brighter days should eventually come. It has been a mentally exhausting offseason filled with heartbreak. Although more adversity lies ahead, the Portland Trail Blazers have the makings of an exciting and interesting basketball team.
That will be more apparent after these 3 questions are answered. And after some more Lillard grieving.