It’s a shame too. It’s just something about the Portland Trail Blazers in which true NBA fans just want to root for. Maybe it’s that most are tired of the Golden State Warriors dominance. It could be the cockiness of James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston. The Los Angeles Lakers are loaded with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Denver Nuggets are young and up and coming but the Blazers have the people’s champs in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. We have to cheer for them.
Lillard and McCollum were not supposed to be NBA stars and yet, they have both donned the All-Star uniform. They are both 20-point scores and are leaders of their team. However, a championship has continued to elude them. A freak injury here and there has robbed them of a great chance and this year has been more of the same.
The idea coming onto the 2019-20 season was that Lillard and McCollum paired with Jusuf Nurkic were set to lead the Blazers well past the first round. But Nurkic has yet to play this season, the Blazers have dealt with injuries to both Lillard and McCollum and have made trades that may or may not have been the best chemistry-wise.
Hassan Whiteside has been a force in the paint since his arrival but not enough for the Blazers to remain consistent. Whiteside is averaging 16.2 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game for a defense ranked 26th in the league. Then you have the curious case of Carmelo Anthony. While signed to the vet minimum, Anthony has put up modest numbers with 15.3 points per game while hitting .422 percent from the floor. Has he done enough has been the question following Anthony this year?
Be there is the problem with the Trail Blazers. All that talent in both the front and backcourt and they have nothing to show for it. Playoff berths are good but it’s about winning that championship. Lillard as in All-World player and McCollum is just as good as Klay Thompson so what’s the hold-up?
Injuries have hit the Blazers at the wrong time. If Nurkic can make it back before the playoffs, then we will get to see what this team can really do.
It will be tough to break this team up. Lillard is not moving, and despite their playoff failures, he’s the cornerstone and still young enough to continue to build around. More than likely, it will be McCollum, Anthony, Whiteside or Nurkic on the move. A core with Lillard and Whiteside is promising if the front office can get the right players around them. The other key issue there is salary.
McCollum just recently signed for 3 years and $100M and Whiteside is due a new contract after this season. There is no way the Blazers are set to pay three max contracts with so much of the unknown hanging in the balance. It’s either do or die this season.
The Western Conference is loaded but no team has played as a clear favorite. The Lakers have great talent but aren’t invincible. Their bench is weak and a good running team could take them out of their game. The Los Angeles Clippers are stacked but an off night from the perimeter and they’re gone. The Houston Rockets have excelled at “small ball” but the Blazers are just the team to offset their approach.
The success of the Blazers this season will still come down to the health of Nurkic. If he returns as promised on March 15 they have a shot. It will take him and the team some time to adjust but they must do so on the fly and pretty quick.
A starting five of Lillard, McCollum, Anthony, Whiteside, and Nurkic can beat any team in the NBA. But if they fail, all bets are off and someone or someones will be gone this offseason. The team we see now will not be back in 2020 if they don’t win a title. It hurts to say and may be a bit unfair, but this is the business side of the NBA.