The Portland Trail Blazers are only three-and-a-half games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but realistically, it's time to start looking forward to next season. The Blazers aren't consistent enough to make a final push, but they have great pieces going forward.
Damian Lillard's incredible rookie season has pushed the Blazers from rebuilding mode to the border of competing. With Lillard alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, the Blazers have a strong core of talent to build around.
Here are some of the current pieces that don't fit with what the Blazers' future plans.
Trading for Eric Maynor should indicate the end of the Nolan Smith-era in Portland. Maynor's play off the bench has been a tremendous upgrade from Smith. Since Maynor made his debut following the team's acquisition near the trade deadline, Smith has only appeared in one game, playing two minutes.
As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Smith will likely be looking for a new team.
Smith never showed an ability to run the offense as a point guard. In addition, his lack of size hurt him as a scoring option. His lack of athleticism has really been exposed by the addition of rookie point guard Damian Lillard.
Jared Jeffries hasn't been a large part of the plan for the Blazers since he was acquired in the trade that sent Raymond Felton to New York. The talented defender hasn't gotten many opportunities, even on a poor defensive team.
Of the 38 games Jeffries has played, he's surpassed 10 minutes just 13 times. The veteran big man has only scored more than two points in five games.
At 31 years old, Jeffries has definitely reached his ceiling. While Jeffries is under contract until the summer of 2015, the Blazers would be better off releasing him. Instead of letting him rot on the bench, the team should just pay his salary and open up the roster spot for a younger player.
Of the players listed, Luke Babbitt has had the biggest role on the team. He's averaging 4.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game while playing an average of 12.0 minutes per contest. While he's gotten minutes, Babbitt hasn't been able to translate his scoring ability to the Blazers offense. His shooting percentage is down from 41 percent last season to 36.4 percent this year.
While he's shown some potential, he's simply not worth his nearly $2 million price tag. His offense hasn't developed to a point where it makes up enough for his lack of defensive play.
The Blazers would be better suited to test the free-agent market, looking for a small forward that brings more to the table at both ends of the floor.