For more than a year and a half, Blazer’s Edge has been kind enough to let me ramble on about the Portland Trail Blazers every two weeks. It started with Terry Stotts’ defensive scheme and wound through nearly the entire roster to today, which brings me to my final column for this particular website.
I’m taking a step back from my overall freelance commitments to focus on my own venture, Early Bird Rights, which will house the majority of my NBA thoughts going forward. It’s been a really fun run over the last season and a half, which saw the Blazers grow from one of the most embarrassing playoff losses in their history to a conference finals berth. I have no doubt that the team will continue to wonder and entertain over the next several years, and Blazer’s Edge will be there every step of the way to chronicle all of it.
I don’t often get into the narratives behind teams. I prefer to analyze the quantitative things we see on the court – statistics, the salary cap, and Xs and Os. It is what’s best for a writer based in San Diego and goes to just a handful of games each year. Hell, I’ve never even BEEN to Portland.
That said, you don’t have to be anywhere near the state of Oregon to know that this Trail Blazers team is special. From the leadership of the club all the way down to the last man on the bench, the Blazers ooze the sort of professionalism and culture every team tries to build. It begins with Damian Lillard and runs up and down the roster and the entire organization. Win or lose, Lillard is the sort of human being a person can be proud to support, regardless of his play on the court.
But oh my, his play on the court. It’s truly unfortunate that he happens to be playing at the same time as Stephen Curry, because if Curry never became who he has become over the last several years, we’d be having the conversation about Lillard as the greatest shooter of all time. He can hit from anywhere, both off the catch and off the dribble, and his insane gravity opens up so much of what Portland does offensively. He’s every bit the modern lead guard and can do everything a team would want from their best player, including his extraordinary clutch ability.
Portland is built for success as long as Lillard is on the team and playing at the superhuman level he’s sustained for the last several years. The rest of the organization is built to accentuate his strengths and cover for his weaknesses, from how they market the team locally and nationally to how they build the team each offseason to their actual tactics on both ends of the floor. CJ McCollum is a fantastic backcourt partner for Lillard – he can take over the offense when necessary and hit the sort of immensely difficult shots you need in a playoff series. Jusuf Nurkic complements his superstar teammates perfectly – he’s impossible to keep off the glass when Lillard or McCollum happen to miss a shot and walls off the rim on the other end of the floor.
The Trail Blazers have had their issues building past their top three players as the mistakes of 2016 have hampered them, but as I laid out in my previous column, they’re pretty well set up for free agency next summer. The 2020 free agent class is notoriously short on superstar talent, but that matters not at all for a Blazers team that already has its top players entrenched for the next several years.
The future is extremely bright in Portland, and while I’ll miss covering the team for Blazer’s Edge, I have no doubts that I’ll continue to watch what the Trail Blazers are building and keep a close eye on how the club builds on their success this past season, and their success over the last decade, to propel themselves back into the championship conversation.