The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves with a 4-7 record in the early going, due in large part to an MVP-worthy performance by Damian Lillard. Portland’s franchise star regularly puts the team on his back, especially in the fourth quarter, but the roster’s imbalance due to injuries and lacking on-court chemistry has impeded the Blazers from taking advantage of their star’s incredible early performance.
Tom Ziller of SB Nation has two views of Lillard’s stardom and the Blazers struggling to tread water:
First, how bad would the Blazers be if Lillard weren’t playing out of his mind right now? Would they be competing with the Warriors and Pelicans for the worst record in the conference? The other way to look at it — the more cheerful view — is to expect that Portland’s luck will flip at some point soon, and having had an ultra-effective Lillard to keep them afloat in this early stage will have created enough of a springboard to chase a low playoff seed.
There is no guarantee that the recovery for Jusuf Nurkic or Zach Collins puts them in a position to play, and play well this season, making this year an especially tough case. Ziller points to Lillard’s max contract extension last summer as at least some sense of security for the franchise, but wonders what kind of moves the team will make in order to maximize Lillard’s prime:
The Blazers now have immense leverage in building the team how they see fit. That doesn’t mean they want to or can afford to alienate Lillard. But the short-term risk of flight is gone. They can be more patient than most teams with veteran superstars and ticking free agency clocks.
Will that allowance for patience allow the Blazers to make smart instead of rash moves, or will the drive to capitalize on what looks to be Lillard’s peak create the impetus for rash moves? How will Portland’s front office navigate this weird time coming off of a conference finals run where the team and Lillard are performing at way different levels? If the answer is that they do nothing, and the team continues to falter despite MVP-level production from Lillard, how will he react internally and externally? How will he cope given his immense financial security and sturdy legacy in the making but the real potential that this team has under peaked under his leadership?
You can read more from Ziller’s piece here.