Of all the setbacks, disappointments, and small-scale disasters that have typified the 2019-20 season for the Portland Trail Blazers, nothing depressed me more than Rodney Hood’s blown Achilles.
I wrote 18 months ago that the Blazers looked like office drones — a franchise content to live a mundane life plugging away on expense reports in its cubicle, but giving up on bigger dreams like Ferraris or NBA championships.
In realer terms, from under the shadow of the Pelicans’ ass kicking, it appeared that the Blazers had no path toward meaningful improvement. Forty-something wins and a first round exits seemed like an eternal fate. Yuck.
Boy was I wrong. Last season’s conference finals run (WITHOUT NURKIC!!!) negated those worries as emphatically as a Kent Bazemore chasedown block (we miss you, Nic Batum). The Blazers have a path forward and regardless of what happens this season, they are in great position to leverage expiring contracts and/or cap space into a legit contending team in 2020-21. I run through the myriad possibilities in this article:
Here’s another hypothetical that assumes Collins doesn’t need to be dangled for a player on an expiring deal:
Starters: Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Collins, [Whiteside trade]
Bench: Simons, Hood, Trent Jr., Bazemore, Labissiere on minimum deal, [$6 million taxpayer MLE]
That’s a fun team! And nothing that has happened during the 2019-20 season, until Hood’s injury, jeopardizes it.
Maintaining tranquility despite 2019 struggles
Whiteside is a rental so his questionable fit doesn’t matter long term. Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver are minimum salary flyers, so it doesn’t really affect the 2020-21 season if they aren’t great. There’s plenty of precedent for complete recovery from broken legs and messed up shoulders, so I am not worried about Nurk and Zach. They’ll be back 100 percent by 2020.
With a little luck and good planning, none of the major problems we’ve had to sit through this season will carry over to next year.
Yes, it sucks to lose a season of Dame’s prime to injury and poor roster construction, but there has been reason to have a hopeful, or even downright positive, long-term outlook even as this season’s aspirations fall away.
In short, the Blazers may not buy that Ferrari in 2020, but they’re saving money for 2021. If you felt good about the team on June 1, 2019, you should still feel good about them on June 1, 2020.
Hood and 2020-21
Rodney Hood’s torn Achilles, however, is a different story to me. Unlike Collins and Nurk, there’s precedent that a torn Achilles permanently affects a player.
We all remember the details after Wes Matthews’ suffered the same fate in 2015, but suffice to say Hood possibly won’t be back for opening night in 2020 and it’s unclear if he will ever return to the level of effectiveness he hit last season.
That’s a problem because Hood’s a perfect complement to the foreseeable roster construction and one of the only reliable role players already on the roster. The Blazers were likely banking on him to serve as either a fifth starter or bench sparkplug who gelled well with Terry Stotts’ mover-blocker system and Lillard’s skillset.
Losing Hood, or some of his effectiveness, before training camp even opens deals a blow to a team that hasn’t even been formed yet. There’s no word for that but “sucks.” Ugh.
Beyond that, Hood is a fun player and seems genuinely likable. With all due respect to Dame and CJ, he was responsible for the Blazers’ biggest moment of the 2019 playoffs and went out of his way to make it clear he loved playing in Portland:
Hood was also playing for a major free agent payday — he settled for a taxpayer midlevel exception this year, but there’s more money and less talent on the market next summer. A lucrative opportunity for the Blazers swing man. That money probably won’t come now (perversely Hood opting in next season is actually good for the Blazers. ha).
So, yeah, I’m still optimistic about the potential of the 2020-21 season and with any luck Hoodie will be back to 90 percent by Jan. 1, 2021. But it just sucks to have a teensy bit of hope about the future squelched as we sit through an already disappointing season.