The Blazers have made a lot of big moves. Today, we take a look at the new players and consider how these transactions affect Damian Lillard. Check back on Sunday and we’ll unpack how fans should feel about the new direction of the team. (Spoiler alert: Put down the pitchforks.)
The Trail Blazers officially welcomed Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II to Portland on Thursday.
The press conference heralding Grant and Payton marked the soft conclusion of an active offseason for general manager Joe Cronin.
“We’ve built a team that others will be nervous playing. We have a team that’s going to be difficult to beat and has the potential to win a lot of ball games,” Cronin said. “We have a really solid core we want to grow with.”
After acquiring Grant from the Detroit Pistons and drafting Shaedon Sharpe with the seventh overall pick, Cronin made a little more noise in free agency by signing Payton to a three-year, $26.1 million deal. Payton has bounced around the league but found a home with the Golden State Warriors last season, playing a vital role in their championship run.
“I can do anything you need. Set screens, rebound, defend,” Payton said. “Whatever [Blazers coach Chauncey Billups] comes up with in the game plan, I’ll be able to do it without a problem.”
Payton’s calling card is defensive versatility and tenacity—something the Blazers desperately need. Despite standing only 6-foot-3, he plays physically enough to body up with taller power forwards, hopefully unlocking various three-guard lineups for Billups.
“We can play a bigger lineup, a smaller lineup,” Billups said. “You gotta have a small-ball lineup that can close games. You gotta have a big lineup that can close games.…Just the possibility of having all those things is exciting.”
Payton is not an offensive stalwart but plays within his limitations, slicing and cutting his way to 62% accuracy from the field last year. And the Blazers don’t need much offensive punch from him—they already have Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic and Grant.
And, yes, his father is that Gary Payton. The elder Gary is basketball royalty in the Pacific Northwest, starring at Oregon State in college with the Seattle SuperSonics for 13 seasons.
Cronin used part of the midlevel exception to sign Payton. The MLE, which gives teams over the salary cap about $10 million to sign free agents, activated a hard cap for the Blazers. Depending on some as yet unannounced salary nuances, they have between $3.7 million and $6 million left to spend and a single roster spot open.
Most notably, the Blazers lack depth at center and power forward. After Nurkic and Grant, Billups will rely on the relatively unproven Trendon Watford and journeyman returnee Drew Eubanks (also an Oregon State alum).
“The roster’s probably not perfect as far as distribution,” Cronin said. “We’ll continue to tinker with that. We’re not by any means worried about lack of size.”
Let’s just say that rebounding might be a problem.
“I thought that [Payton] was going to be my backup,” said the 6-foot-11 Nurkic with a grin.
Despite the unbalanced roster, it’s hard to complain about any of Cronin’s decisions. Grant was had for little more than a late 2025 first-round draft pick and Payton’s $8 million contract is in good alignment with his skill level. Both transactions are huge successes compared to the days of spending entire MLEs on Derrick Jones Jr.
In addition to acquiring Grant and Payton, Cronin re-signed Simons and Nurkic to four-year $100 million and $70 million contracts, respectively. The Blazers had no way to replace either player in free agency, so it was essential that both be retained.
“To be able to stick in one spot for such a long period of time, I don’t take those things for granted,” Nurkic said. “For me, this is home. Portland is a special place for sure.”
As with Payton, both Simons and Nurkic signed contracts commensurate with their skill levels.
That matters because all of these players should be tradeable in the event that another superstar (e.g., Kevin Durant) becomes available. Gone are the days of Crabbe-sized albatrosses dashing Jimmy Butler fantasies. That’s a step in the right direction, even if the roster isn’t complete yet.
Damian Lillard’s ongoing influence
One key player didn’t sign a new contract: Damian Lillard.
Lillard is eligible for a two-year, $100 million-plus extension on his current contract currently set to expire in 2025. Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that Lillard may be basing his decision on the strength of Portland’s offseason.
At this point, it will be hard for Lillard to complain. The Blazers have seemingly done everything in their power to please him.
Lillard has spoken glowingly of Simons and Nurkic in the past. Grant was an Olympics teammate in 2021, and the two have been linked ever since. Lillard and Payton have been summer workout buddies in the past. He endorsed the hiring of Chauncey Billups, who survived the purging of the man who hired him. The Blazers have been “retooled” in Lillard’s image.
For their part, the Blazers can also afford to be slightly trepidatious in negotiating the extension.
Lillard would be just days shy of his 37th birthday when the hypothetical new contract expires. His immense value to the community is likely enough to justify the salary, but there are downsides attached to locking up $50 million annually on a smaller player in the twilight of his career. Lillard almost assuredly sees Chris Paul as a model for graceful aging, but the franchise will need to weigh the risk that Russell Westbrook’s trajectory is also a possible outcome.
Update: An hour after we published, this happened:
Life comes at you fast.
· The Blazers retain the rights to CJ Elleby and Keljin Blevins (aka Big Nepotism), but it seems increasingly unlikely that either will return.
· Cronin waived Eric Bledsoe rather than use his $19 million contract in a trade. Once the Blazers signed Payton and activated the hard cap, it would have been very difficult to use Bledsoe’s contract in a trade.
· Sharpe is making his professional debut this week at the Las Vegas Summer League. He exited the first game on Thursday night with a shoulder injury. Feels about right.
· “Bring your ass to Portland.” Nurkic revealed what was said in the prescient photo snapped of him and Grant in March in Detroit. Good thing the league’s tampering rules don’t seem to apply to players.