Prior to the season’s start, the Portland Trailblazers looked like they could be a real Western Conference threat. No, they probably wouldn’t have outlasted the Golden State Warriors, nor the San Antonio Spurs. But they certainly would have given them a run for their money. Instead, the Blazers have hobbled along on a very disappointing season. They’re at 32-38 now. And at 9th place, they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to the Playoffs.
What the heck happened?
Off Season Hopes
The summer for the Portland Trailblazers had gone pretty well. After all, they got to keep all the important pieces. Damian Lillard would still lead the way. CJ McCollum would continue to evolve, making a case for himself when talking about the league’s best guards. They also picked up some great quality role players. Rebounding big man Festus Ezeli had joined the crew, as well as dynamo scorer Evan Turner. And losing the likes of Chris Kaman wasn’t so bad.
ESPN predicted that they would go 46-36 this year, after a 44-38 run last year. Hopes were running high for perhaps a second round appearance.
Instead, Ezeli’s knee gave out, and he had to eventually undergo surgery. Turner struggled to find his niche in the team’s play, and Allen Crabbe was wildly inconsistent. Note even Damian Lillard’s sheer talent could power the team through its struggles.
What’s Next For The Portland Trailblazers
As disappointing as the season has been, hope remains among the Trailblazers fanbase. And the biggest silver lining of all? They’ve been playing really well, lately – grabbing 8 wins in the last 11 games. That also would have been 9 wins if Markieff Morris had been properly called for an out-of-bounds play during their loss to the Wizards, too.
There’s also the fact that the Blazers play 9 of their last 12 games at home, including a 4-game home stand to close out the season. Most of those games will come against teams who are sub-.500 in the standings, giving Portland a chance to overtake the Denver Nuggets in the Playoff race.
Is a first round exit versus the Warriors preferable to joining the draft lottery? Some fans would say no. Some would certainly prefer the chance of landing Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, no matter how small.
But the Blazers shouldn’t be tanking, because unlike a lot of other teams, they’re actually already on the right path. They have young talent on the rise, and they’ve shown the right team culture and dedication. And very tellingly, they have shown nothing near their full potential just yet. At some point, Ezeli will get better, Jusuf Nurkic will become a pick-and-roll master, and Damian Lillard will be recognized as the All-Star that he is. A first round melee with some of the West’s elite will make them all the better for it.
The Portland Trailblazers don’t have to go through a rebuilding process all over again. They’re not yet on top, but they’re certainly ahead of the pack.