Should fans of the Portland Trail Blazers be worried? The team has yet to win on the road, dropping recent games to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Phoenix Suns. According to Sam Quinn of CBS Sports, it might be time to hit the panic button.
Panic meter: 8 out of 10
The whole concern is greater than the sum of its parts in Portland. Damian Lillard struggled early on … but he’s largely gotten back on track over the past three games. The defense was ranked No. 22 through 11 games … but allowed the second-highest open 3-point percentage in the NBA and the fifth-highest wide-open 3-point percentage. Luck should help Portland in those respects. The bench has struggled … but the starting lineup has played the fourth-most minutes of any five-man unit in basketball and has posted a strong plus-7.7 net rating together after thriving last season. The component parts here shouldn’t raise as many alarms as the actual on-court results seem to, yet it’s hard to deny the sense of disappointment surrounding the start to this season.
Quinn suggests these issues are nothing new to the Blazers.
The staleness of the situation doesn’t help. All of these problems, save Lillard’s struggles, are fairly standard in Portland. The model throughout Lillard’s tenure has been great offense overcoming poor defense and strong starters lifting poor reserves. The same is true this season. It will probably be true next season. Holes grow over time. Problems that once felt fixable start to feel inevitable. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
According to Quinn, there’s a lot to think about in the Blazers’ future.
That’s where we’re headed in Portland, except it’s not truly possible to do the same thing over and over again in the NBA. Players age. Players get expensive. Anfernee Simons is having his best season as a pro. He’s also set for restricted free agency this offseason. Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington are inching toward unrestricted free agency as well. Neither is playing his best defensively. The roster, by and large, remains small. Small players tend not to age fairly well.
If Portland is OK hovering around .500 and losing in the first two rounds indefinitely, this isn’t particularly concerning. As we’ve covered, there’s room for improvement here, but it’s improvement only to where the Blazers have been in previous seasons. Nothing that has happened thus far this season suggests that they’ve unlocked something new, that they’ve found a way to overcome their previous limitations. That might not bother Lillard, who has recently hinted that he plans to stay in Portland regardless, but it should probably bother the organization. Is .500 really something to aspire to?
Quinn notes that new coach Chauncey Billups has yet to make much of an impact.
Thus far, a coaching change hasn’t fixed what ails this team. As Lillard ages and the role players move toward free agency, time to find a cure is running out. Eventually, this team is going to have to try something more drastic. Until they figure out what that is, they’ll remain stuck exactly where they’ve been for the past half decade: outside of true contention.
You can read the entire piece here.