By itself, the Carmelo Anthony signing is not damning. It's easy to construct a case for the Portland Trail Blazers trying to squeeze whatever's left out of the 35-year-old forward, who hasn't played an NBA game since the Houston Rockets gave up on him one year and one week ago. The Blazers don't have an actual power forward on their roster beyond Anthony Tolliver, and superstar Damian Lillard has been overtaxed on offense through the season's first 12 games, in which they have compiled a 4-8 record. Anthony won't fix their biggest issue -- Portland's defense ranks 19th -- but, even if you'd rather it had signed a G Leaguer with a higher ceiling on that end, there is little downside here. If Anthony has nothing left, the Blazers can waive him and his non-guaranteed contract and do just that. 

What's damning is that the Blazers were in a position where signing Anthony was rational. They won 53 games last season, were swept in the conference finals and then had a deeply weird offseason. The riskiest move was the one that made the most headlines, trading Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard for Hassan Whiteside, a 30-year-old "reclamation project" they hoped would fill the hole created by Jusuf Nurkic's injury. There were serious questions about Whiteside's fit, though, and about the composition of the team after moving Harkless, losing Al-Farouq Aminu, retaining Rodney Hood and adding a combination of second-draft guys (Mario Hezonja, Skal Labissiere) and past-their-prime vets (Pau Gasol, Tolliver), some of whom would need to be in the rotation. They seemed to be confident that Whiteside would be a real defensive anchor and that breakout seasons from 21-year-old big Zach Collins and 20-year-old guard Anfernee Simons would make up for the apparent holes on the roster. 

Portland has a minus-1.3 net rating, which ranks 17th in the league, per Cleaning The Glass, and its subpar start has cast the offseason in a harsh light. Lillard has been incredible, averaging 30.5 points on 20.4 shot attempts in 38.4 minutes, with a 63.9 true shooting percentage -- all of those numbers are career highs. His pick-and-roll and isolation brilliance has kept the Blazers in games in which they might have otherwise been blown out. CJ McCollum has been mired in a shooting slump and their defense has been wobbly, almost never forcing turnovers while surrendering tons of offensive rebounds and free throws. A week ago, in a microcosm of the season, Lillard scored 60 points in regulation against the Nets and they still lost. The rest of the team combined to score 55 points on 21-for-66 shooting and Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie lit them up on the other end. 

Simons' scoring has been encouraging. McCollum is starting to get it together. The absence of Collins, who had shoulder surgery after three games, is not a small thing. But even if Portland had been injury-free, even if it were 6-6 or 7-5 instead of 4-8, it would still be relying on a shaky, unbalanced supporting cast, hoping for consistency out of Whiteside and Hood, trying to create an environment that will bring the best out of Hezonja and Labissiere. In the summer, team president Neil Olshey raved about Tolliver's ability to make corner 3s and improve the Blazers' pick-and-roll game, calling him a "big-time fit for us." That Tolliver has struggled, making just 24.2 percent of his 3s, most of which have not been from the corner, is less of an indictment of Olshey's optimism than Portland being worse on both ends with him on the court. Anthony will presumably take some of Tolliver's minutes. 

It does not feel like a coincidence that the Blazers signed Anthony less than 24 hours after their 114-106 loss to the shorthanded Raptors at the Moda Center. Toronto's defensive strategy showed no respect for their role players, swarming Lillard and forcing him into a nine-point, 2-for-12 night, daring anyone but him or McCollum to make plays. 

"It's the fourth team in a row to come out denying me full court," Lillard told reporters. "Box-and-one. I don't remember seeing that many box-and-ones in the NBA, but I mean, they make me play against a crowd. Even when I'm trying to get downhill and be aggressive, there's literally four people in the paint. The right play is to kick it ahead or kick it out, and that was the only option they gave me a lot of times."

In that game, Portland had no answer for Pascal Siakam, the playmaking, floor-spacing, switchable power forward of its dreams and nightmares. Coach Terry Stotts eventually turned to rookie forward Nasir Little, as ESPN's Kevin Pelton noted in his analysis of the Anthony signing:

While he has provided some floor spacing, Hezonja is making just 32% of his 2-point attempts and can be physically overmatched against top power forwards at a listed 6-foot-8, 201 pounds. On Wednesday night, Hezonja was overwhelmed by the challenge of defending Pascal Siakam in the post.

Out of desperation, Portland coach Terry Stotts turned Wednesday to Little, a 19-year-old rookie project who didn't start once during his lone season at North Carolina. Little provided energy and was a better physical match for Siakam, but he shot 3-of-10 from the field and 1-of-5 on 3s.

Siakam would have likely eaten Anthony alive, but the degree to which the former All-Star addresses the Blazers' problems is less significant than the fact that their front office created these problems in the first place. They made bold moves after the Golden State Warriors swept them, betting on the steadying influence of Lillard and Stotts and their track record of outperforming statistical projections. Portland appears to have overrated its infrastructure, underrated the versatile forwards who used to be in the starting lineup and entered the season with a team that was a Collins injury away from desperation. If there is indeed something special about the Blazers, something magical about Stotts' system and Lillard's leadership, something that can galvanize this group and get the most out of Anthony, now would be a good time to conjure it.