I have an idea of how the Portland Trail Blazers’ season will go: start slow, recover, fall behind, push hard as the season ends, sneak into the NBA Playoffs. Sound familiar? It’s been a symptom of bringing back almost the same roster year after year following the 2015-16 season.
This kind of symmetry can be played up as chemistry, believing that a similar team will grow year after year and yadda yadda yadda. But boredom can also set in with a predictable team on-the-court-wise; yet I’ve recently realized that this team off the court is an underrated part of the Blazers’ vibe, worth following just like they are on the court.
While I don’t have access to the Blazers and can’t ask them wacky questions -- like: “Where do you like to get dinner in Portland?” -- The Oregonian does, and they took full advantage of this to ask the Blazers a truly pressing question: Is it Dame Time or Lillard Time?
This, of course, is about star Damian Lillard and the divide in what people call his clutch-time heroics. The Blazers are divided in their answers, but it’s amusing to see the team reason through their answers on such an unimportant topic:
I think what makes this video so appealing is that the team has been around long enough to actually form an opinion on the matter. And even for the new players, like Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., they know their answers matter and that they should have a position on the issue.
When you mention Lillard or CJ McCollum, the other is likely to follow right after. Portland’s star backcourt is often in conversations about how they rank together against other backcourts, but they’re also compared against each other regularly. Being the team’s fulcrum, it’s no wonder they’ve grown close together off the court, too.
They showcased this bond prior to the Oakland Raiders-Cleveland Browns game last Sunday. Lillard (a Raiders fan) and McCollum (a Browns fan) talked smack in the days leading up to the game, and both were in attendance for the actual game. When Lillard’s Raiders beat McCollum’s Browns, the former took joy in the latter’s disappointment:
It’s nice to see the team’s two most important players get along off the court, too. Friendship isn’t a requirement for success, it just makes my appreciation of their success greater.
Fan Fest seems like an event designed for fun, from meeting players and coaches to the scrimmage and competitions that cap off the night. Here it was hard to miss how much this team enjoys being, well, a team. There was Lillard looking like a proud dad with Simons, Evan Turner advocating for Jake Layman to win MVP, and Meyers Leonard showcasing real joy at winning the MVP award despite it being his seventh year in Portland:
And, of course, the rookie dance-off.
Rookies add a new wrinkle
Portland’s rookies have already shown that they’ll add some fun to this year’s team as well. Trent Jr. had a memorable moment in training camp when he took a free throw that would’ve ended practice — the honor of taking such free throw is usually the task of Lillard or McCollum — but missed it. Lillard respected the rookie’s gusto in taking the shot, even if it prolonged the day’s practice just a little longer, he told Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com:
“Afterwards I told him ‘I like it,’” said Lillard. “He ain’t afraid. It would have been the easy thing to do to say ‘Alright, Dame or CJ, go shoot it.’ That’s what everybody expects. But when he stepped up I respected it because there might come a time where Moe is in foul trouble or fouled out of a game, ET is hurt, you just never know what can happen.”
And fellow rookie Anfernee Simons did his best to Break the Internet when asked if water is wet during a reddit AMA:
We all probably follow the Blazers due to what they do on the court. I doubt very few people have started to like the Blazers because Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum made fun of each other over a football game. But it adds another dimension in how to enjoy this team. A predictable year for Portland doesn’t mean it won’t be a fun ride along the way.