@The Will Baldwin
The Portland Trail Blazers are at a crossroads in their franchise history. Arguably the franchise’s greatest player is in the midst of his best season ever at the not so young anymore age of 30 (31 in July) and the Blazers are in the play-in tournament.
At least, they would be if the season ended today and that’s why this is a potential watershed moment for the organization.
With a payroll of over $131 million, good for 13th in the NBA and basically the same amount committed next year which is currently sixth (but subject to change a bit), this team is all in on their current roster. They traded two first round picks for Robert Covington, flipped young piece Gary Trent Jr for Norman Powell and by the start of next season both of their stars will be on the wrong side of 30.
Sure, injuries have really hurt this team this season. CJ McCollum looked like he was finally going to make the All-Star team and then in the same week no less, went down with an extended injury along with Jusuf Nurkic. Then there’s Zach Collins who was supposed to be key for them after the 2019 playoffs and basically hasn’t played for the team since.
To make matters seem more unfair, right when they got their team back and Nurkic and McCollum returned from injury, Lillard hurt his hamstring and has been either out or off his game since.
But here’s the thing. As frustrating and impossibly unfair as the injuries the Blazer’s have sustained really since Nurkic got hurt in 2019, it’s time for this organization to look in the mirror.
I’m not saying firing Terry Stotts is the solution like it seems firing the coach is always pitched to be however, at some point you can’t keep trying the same thing.
Even with health, this team isn’t good enough to win the West. With a player as good as Lillard on your roster, that isn’t acceptable.
McCollum has always felt redundant next to Dame so maybe flipping him is the move. Nurkic hasn’t been the same athletically since his injury, that could be a change as well. Obviously firing Stotts is an option. Maybe something else.
It doesn’t necessarily matter what I pitch the solution to be on April 26th 2021. What matters is Neil Olshey’s team isn’t where it needs to be and something needs to give.
We’re on year six of the CJ/Dame partnership and they have won a total of three playoff series starring together.
The defence is worse than it’s ever been even with the additions of Covington, Derrick Jones and the return of Nurkic, ranking 29th in the NBA, only ahead of the literal worst defence in league history in Sacramento.
Now of course there’s a world where they snap out of this brutal cold streak and win some games and finish sixth in the West and out of the play-in. But let’s all be honest with ourselves, if missing the play-in is seen as a positive outcome for your season and you have a guy like Lillard, that’s flat out not acceptable.
Something needs to give in Portland and it’s up to them to figure it out.
Regardless of how this season ends we already have our answer about this organization. They aren’t good enough and something fairly significant needs to change to give them a chance to be.
Until that happens they’ll remain a fun playoff team every season. Nothing less and unfortunately for them and their fan base, nothing more.
The crossroads is waiting for them to choose their route. All we know now is the only option that isn’t on the table is straight. It’s a hard turn one direction or the other.
Now it’s up to them to figure out which is the right one for them to choose.