The Portland Trail Blazers’ season ended last night in difficult fashion, a 128-103 loss to the Golden State Warriors, concluding their 2017 NBA Playoffs run on the wrong end of a sweep. Over the next few days we’ll be reflecting on the season just passed, the highs and lows, all the important events.
Today we’ll begin with a basic question: How did this year feel to you? Were you encouraged, discouraged, left in limbo? If someone had handed you a crystal ball in October and shown you how the year would progress, would you have been excited or disappointed?
To open the discussion, we’ll share thoughts from a few members of the Blazer’s Edge Staff.
Chris Lucia @ChrisLuciaPDX:
The Blazers ended the season a very fitting 41-41, an apt literal and figurative representation of a .500 year that produced some peaks and valleys but ultimately settled in a spot many fans dread: NBA No-Man’s Land. They ended up good enough to make the playoffs - thus eliminating any chance at the Draft Lottery - but not good enough to contend for a championship. Jusuf Nurkic could be the savior who diverts Portland away from perpetual mediocrity during the prime years of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and Neil Olshey has three picks to mess around with in the coming months. But the team is in such a long-term financial pretzel that we’re still left with as many questions as answers.
David MacKay @DavidMacKayNBA:
In a binary sense, you can gauge the success of an NBA team’s season with a simple formula: results minus expectations. If you have matching values or end up with a surplus; success. If not; failure. The Trail Blazers entered 2016-17 with the second-highest payroll in the league, a 46.5-win over/under, and second-round-plus aspirations. There is no universe where a .500 season and a first-round sweep can be called a success here. That said, the fanbase was not bereft of things to cheer for over the course of 82 games. The acquisition of Nurkic made things interesting as the season wound down, McCollum improved upon his “most improved” 2016 campaign, and Lillard set a new franchise single-game scoring record. That was enough to get a lot of folks through some dark times. Just don’t look too far down the tunnel ahead; the salary situation was flubbed so badly from the start that the Trail Blazers are a long way from actual daylight.
Team Mom @tcbbiggs:
This season has been chaotic, like one long Al-Farouq Aminu fast break. Careening down the court with a full head of steam, you’re not sure if Chief knows where he’s going and neither does anyone else. The Blazers charged into this season the same way: get the ball and GO. They ran into obstacles along the way - plenty of them of their own making. They twisted, turned, bobbled the ball, recovered, dove, turned it over ...but never let up. Dame continues to be a great leader and player. Teams can’t ignore CJ anymore. They might have a third weapon as well in Nurkic. I’m still not convinced that he’s got it all, but I do see that his presence makes things easier for everyone else (thanks for pointing out how that works, Dan Marang!) Noah Vonleh got a little better until Nurk came along and then he seemed a lot better.
Unfortunately there were also more injuries this year - most of them the kind that didn’t have a specific play we could associate with them. Plantar Fasciitis. Strained Calf. Broken hand. Broken leg? When did that happen? Other teams were ready for the Blazers this year and the Blazers couldn’t compensate for that. Last year was like a series of fast breaks where the other teams were caught watching. This year their opponents were not going to let them charge on through without a fight and the guys paid pretty dearly for it.
I can’t lie: I’m glad the season is over. This has been the worst non-Raymond-Felton season in the past decade. The post-deadline events created an upbeat end-of-season story, but I haven’t forgotten what got us to that point: Listless, lazy, seemingly-uncaring play by the Blazers for the first half of the season. Minimal effort on defense, poor rebounding, and lots of standing around on offense. That’s not even about their skill level; it’s about showing good old-fashioned effort, and the Blazers had none. Why? We may never know. But by the time they showed signs of life, it was far too late to be relevant. I've truly been wishing the season was over since January. They had “the window” to rest players and tank for draft position, right before their easy stretch of the season. I could have handled two more months of pain to match the rest of the season. But they went for it, and it was fun for a while, then it ended with a thud. I’d have traded this brutal first-round loss for a higher first-round pick.
Of course, this dismisses one very important player who joined the team in that stretch run. Perhaps the short, thrilling end to the regular season will etch Rip City into Nurkic’s long-term psyche, and it’s the start of a great era with a young, elite big man. However, I’m mindful of the bridges he torched across Denver on the way out. In the end, Nurkic fills me with the same conflicted emotions I feel for the entire team: Hope and fear.
I’ll add my thoughts in a post tomorrow, but first how about you, Blazer’s Edge Readers? Did the season meet or exceed your expectations? Why or why not? Start up the conversation in the comments.