The Portland Trail Blazers’ offseason decision to change the supporting cast around their main stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will make them look like a completely different team next season, according to the Ringer writer Danny Chau.

In a recent episode of the Ringer podcast, Chau and his co-host Justin Verrier discussed the current state of the Blazers - who are coming off a conference finals stint last season - and how Neil Olshey’s latest roster retooling would affect their chances of coming out of a loaded West.

As already mentioned, the Blazers are fresh from one of the most successful seasons in the franchise’s history after they reached the conference finals for the first time since the 1999-2000 NBA season.

In an attempt to keep their core intact going into the 2020s, the front-office pounced on the opportunity of locking up both Lillard and McCollum to long-term contracts.

Lillard received a four-year, $196 million supermax extension, extending his contract through the 2024-25 season. Several weeks later, McCollum inked his own extension deal, agreeing to a three-year, $100 million max contract. With this couple of big-time signings, the Blazers secured the service of one of the most dynamic backcourt duos in the NBA for the next half a decade.

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The Modern Hawks

Chau didn’t see any wrong with the Blazers finally rewarding their starting backcourt. He still thinks McCollum’s $33 million per year contract over the next four seasons is still pretty much a tradable piece. Finding takers for Lillard despite his $40+ million per year deal won't be a problem too, as the Ringer analyst thinks the Blazers All-Star guard will still be a productive scorer into his 30s because of his prolific three-point shooting.

Still, the Ringer analyst questions Portland’s direction going forward.

While the Blazers have been a consistent playoff team over the last six seasons, taking that next step toward contention has been slow progress. Sure, playing in the Western Conference finals is something to build on, yet one can argue that Portland had a less strenuous road to the third round. They defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder who were on the verge of implosion and the Denver Nuggets who were talented but inexperienced in the postseason.

With this, Chau and Verrier couldn’t help but wonder if this Blazers team is the latest reincarnation of the 2010 Atlanta Hawks that featured Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford.

“Are they the modern Atlanta Hawks? I mean just a team that’s always going to be there, they are always going to be good. I mean the Hawks have the longest postseason active streaks for a really long time…They were competing for a really long time, they are just biding their time, waiting for LeBron to have some sort of freak injury but it never happened.”

New Identity

Chau admitted that he’s fascinated with the Blazers’ current roster makeup.

He thinks the Blazers’ offseason moves have brought in a new culture to the team, abandoning their gritty defensive identity for a more offensive-oriented squad with multiple shot creators on the floor.

“The more I look at this roster, the more I kind of intrigued… I think this team will look much different from the Blazers we’ve seen the past couple of years. I think we kinda focused on the core that they have, their two best players.Hassan Whiteside cannot do the things Jusuf Nurkic did. Jusuf Nurkic became a fantastic facilitator for them. He really gave them another playmaking presence. You are not getting that out of Whiteside. They have to change the way they play, you know the pick-and-rolls," Chau said in the podcast.

Chau also stressed that Zach Collins' new role as the starting power forward would mean he can no longer afford to get in foul trouble, not to mention their perimeter defense becomes a lot weaker without Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu.

Taking these factors into account, Chau is expecting a whole new Blazers team next season, one that would probably thrive on offense but struggle to contain teams on the other end of the floor.

Overlooked but still persistent

The Blazers have had highs and lows in the playoffs throughout this six-year stretch. Still, no one should discount the persistence of this franchise despite being buried by the media over and over again.

Chau’s viewpoint on the Blazers has some substance. It’s true that the Blazers’ perimeter defense took a dip with the exit of Harkless and Aminu. It’s also true that Whiteside cannot be as good of a passer as Nurkic. However, one thing Chau and Verrier forgot is, the Blazers are coached by one of the best bench tacticians in the league in Terry Stotts.

Underrated just like his team, Stotts will sure find a way to maximize the production of his new players like Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, and Mario Hezonja. Rodney Hood’s development into becoming that third consistent scorer will also play a vital role for the Blazers next season. Hood can change the whole dynamic for the team if he can put up at least 16 points per game as the third wheel.

Yes, the Blazers are entering into the unknown with this new roster. No one has a clue what their ceiling or floor for this team is, they just know the Blazers are a lock in the playoffs. And perhaps, that’s all that matters for now.

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