Who Are the New Trail Blazers?
The Blazers look messy this season. Right now, the team ranks 11th place in the Western Conference standings, and their losses outweigh their wins by double digits (22–34). Fueling those losses has been Damian Lillard’s absence—the team's acknowledged leader is likely out for the rest of the season as he recovers from surgery for an abdominal injury.
As if matters couldn’t get any worse, interim general manager Joe Cronin and coach Chauncey Billups have seemingly gone into demolition mode and conducted two major deals ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline, which meant the loss of a few Blazers stand-bys and veterans: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington.
After Rip City fans finished screaming into a pillow, next came the questions. Particularly: “Huh?” and “Why?” Cronin explained shortly after the NBA trade deadline on Thursday, “It had become evident to us that the roster had plateaued.… It was a team that was built to fit a specific coaching style and a style of play that we didn’t feel was conducive to the way Chauncey and myself wanted to play.”
So, out with the old, in with the new, and in return for their five players, the Blazers obtained seven (and the rights to five future draft picks). Now that the dust has settled, who are the new Blazers?
In his 12 years with the NBA, Bledsoe, 32, has bounced around a bit from the Pelicans to the Bucks to the Suns to, most recently, the Clippers. This season he’s averaging about 10 points per game, and, prior to being traded, he’s started in 29 of all 54 Clippers contests.
His role with the Clippers might fall to a second- or third-unit guard, pulling some backup weight for Anfernee Simmons. As far as his future with the Blazers, according to The Athletic, that’s still up in the air.
Hart, a 26-year-old shooting guard incoming from the New Orleans Pelicans, is having a career-high season. In his 51 games with the Pelicans, he’s averaging 13 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game. He’s also averaging 50 percent from the field, despite having below average three-point shooting.
But, with the Blazers ranking 22nd in defense, Hart’s ascent to one of the best rebounding guards in the league could prove essential.
Incoming from the Utah Jazz, Hughes, 23, has appeared in just 32 games over the last two seasons. The Blazers presumably value Hughes’s potential. As a second-year player, he’s an athletic forward, strong and creative around the rim, and he’s putting up decent numbers this season.
Hughes has the potential to strengthen the Blazers bench, while also coming into his own as the season progresses.
Also incoming from the Jazz is the veteran forward Ingles. At age 34, Ingles has played basketball professionally for his home country of Australia, as well as Spain and Israel, before linking up with the Jazz in 2014. Last year he boasted a 41 percent shooting average, but this year’s he’s been struggling, and a recent ACL surgery, which has kept him benched, hasn’t been helping.
Ingles is a fantastic role player, able to make and create shots, but also turn up the defense when needed, but players have been known to come back rusty after an ACL injury. We’ll see what happens when he makes his return.
Johnson, 19 and a rookie coming from the LA Clippers, is another gamble on potential. As a freshman with the Tennessee Volunteers, Johnson averaged 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game during the 2020-21 season. With the Clippers, he pulled up much smaller numbers, but has also only played 15 games and nine minutes per night.
Johnson’s emphasis on defense and fundamental basketball, and potential for development, could prove extremely valuable—if the Blazers don’t value his trade potential more.
Louzada, 22 and a Brazalian national, played professionally in Australia before joining the NBA in 2019. Since then, he’s only played five NBA games, partially because of a 25-game suspension and partially because of a torn meniscus, so his true potential has yet to be revealed.
Louzada is currently under contract until the 2024-25 season with the Blazers, so there will be plenty of time to get in some ball games post-recovery.
Another incoming Clipper, Winslow, 25, is a tough defender and a surprisingly good facilitator, as shown in the Blazers' recent loss to the defending champs the Bucks, where he racked up six points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Also, in Wednesday night’s win against the Los Angeles Lakers, which stopped the bleeding on a six-game losing streak, he nabbed four steals.
Winslow’s defense, ball facilitation, and role playing give the Blazers an edge that’s been lacking in season.
Takeaway: A year or two ago, a win against the Lakers might have meant something, but the Lake Show are seeing some basketball woes of their own as of late. It's great that the Blazers snapped their losing streak, but upcoming games against the Knicks, Bucks, and Grizzlies might begin to reveal how the new players fit into the lineup. Our suspicion is the Blazers won't make the playoffs this year. Instead, Cronin and Billups appear to be thinking about the long game. It's chess, not checkers.