The Portland Trail Blazers regressed after reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2018-19. Before the 2019-20 campaign was suspended due to COVID-19, the Blazers were in ninth place in the Western Conference standings with a record of 29-37.
Pundits expected the Blazers to struggle a little bit since talented big man Jusuf Nurkic was out with a leg injury. The addition of future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony in November gave Portland a bit of a boost on offense, but they were never able to get on a roll and enter the playoff standings out West.
If the 2019-20 season gets canceled altogether, Blazers executive and general manager Neil Olshey needs to sign a dynamic wing that can be a third option on offense and play defense. Portland would be better off bringing Anthony off the bench so he could just focus on scoring and feast against bench players instead of starters.
Anthony appeared in 50 games for the Blazers after his one year NBA hiatus. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists while shooting 42.6 percent from the field. Considering this, his production and body could see benefits if he comes off the bench and plays against less talented players.
Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Marcus Morris is a solid player for the Blazers to target once the 2020 offseason period starts. He’s a better defender and offensive contributor than Anthony at this stage of his career. Morris proved with the New York Knicks before his trade to the Clippers that he can handle the burden of being a No. 1 option, averaging 19.6 points with the ‘Bockers.
With the Blazers, Morris would be the third option on offense behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, respectively. His catch-and-shoot skills from deep would benefit the Blazers immensely. Morris shot 41.0 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks and Clippers, including 43.9 percent with New York.
If the Blazers signed Morris, they could have a starting lineup of Lillard, McCollum, Morris, Trevor Ariza, and Nurkic. When locked in, both Morris and Ariza can defend positions one through four at a high level.
It is also worth noting that Nurkic averaged 1.4 blocks per game in 2018-19 before suffering his leg injury against the Brooklyn Nets, proving he’s more than capable of protecting the rim.
With Morris in the fold, Portland’s interior defense would likely improve. Opposing clubs aren’t going to have a lot of fun driving to the hole and trying to score on Morris, Ariza, and Nurkic. (We should mention that the Blazers need to pick up Ariza’s option for next season to keep him on the team or decline the option and sign him to a new deal.)
Of course, the Blazers are going to need Lillard and McCollum to hold their weight on defense as well. This season, Portland was giving up 115.2 points a game. In the previous season, the Rip City team was the 14th-ranked scoring defense, which was one of the reasons why the team made it to the West finals.
Morris made $15 million this season. The Clippers have the non-bird rights on the veteran, which means they can pay him up to $18 million in year one of his next contract. The Blazers will likely have to outbid the Clips for Morris’ services since L.A. wants to re-sign the forward.
The Clippers sent the Knicks a first-round pick for Morris, so the franchise doesn’t want to lose him in the offseason and not get anything back in return.