The Portland Trail Blazers have big plans this summer. Unfortunately for interim general manager Joe Cronin and company, though, one of the Blazers’ most valuable offseason building blocks may not materialize after all—and it’s completely outside their control.
Paul George is unavailable for Friday night’s do-or-die play-in game against the New Orleans Pelicans after testing positive for COVID-19, robbing the LA Clippers of a superstar capable of single-handedly leading his team to victory.
ESPN story on the massive blow to the Clippers: After testing positive for Covid, All-Star Paul George is out vs. New Orleans in tonight's play-in tournament game: https://t.co/UdDhgAdTNT
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 15, 2022
What’s bad news for LA is even worse news for Portland in the big picture, though.
If the Pelicans beat the Clippers and advance to the playoffs, remember, they’ll convey their 2022 first-round pick to the Charlotte Hornets instead of sending it to the Blazers to fulfill parameters of the C.J. McCollum trade.
Paul George's absence, and the greater potential for a New Orleans victory tonight, could have massive ripple effects around the NBA offseason. Blazers are likely to receive Pelicans' 1-4 protected pick if they miss playoffs, but it goes to Charlotte if NOP earns the 8th seed.
— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) April 15, 2022
George returned in late March after a three-month absence due to a torn UCL in his right elbow. The expectation had previously been that he’d remain sidelined for the season’s duration alongside Kawhi Leonard, leaving LA without the superstar tandem needed to win a championship.
But George’s return at least made LA a far more dangerous postseason foe. He was hardly the problem in the Clippers’ hard-fought loss to the Minnessota Timberwolves in the first leg of the play-in tournament on Tuesday, dropping 25 of his game-high 34 points in the second half.
Ty Lue’s team will be forced to opt for a more egalitarian offensive approach on Friday without George, leaning harder on guards Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell while living and dying by the long ball. His absence leaves the Clippers missing an impactful on-ball and off-ball defender, too, no doubt makes life easier on the likes of McCollum and Brandon Ingram.
Portland needs to make a big splash this summer to avoid wasting another year of Damian Lillard’s prime. Multiple reports have emerged of late indicating the team’s sustained interest in Jerami Grant, a known target of Cronin’s back at the trade deadline in February. If the Blazers own just one lottery pick on June 23rd, though, they’ll lose the opportunity to acquire Grant from the Pistons and add a high-level prospect with their own first-round selection.
Why the Blazers' hopes of a transformative summer have been buoyed by the imminent return of Paul George #RipCityhttps://t.co/MENG7kCGP5
— Blazers Nation (@BlazersNationCP) March 29, 2022
Portland reportedly planned to offer its second lottery pick, the one potentially coming from New Orleans, to Detroit in exchange for Grant. Should the Pelicans advance to the playoffs, they’ll send the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2025 first-round pick—protected 1-4—to the Blazers as part of the McCollum deal.
So much of what Portland has planned this summer depends on owning two lottery picks. Needless to say, everyone in Rip City needs to be pulling for the George-less Clippers on Friday night.