The Portland Trail Blazers are breaking league records this year, but not in a way they want. Portland now leads all NBA teams in the history of the league in losses by 30 points or more, the latest a humbling performance against the San Antonio Spurs.
At first, losing led to a sense of frustration among Blazers fans. Then came resigned acceptance. Now there’s a growing sense of futility among supporters who aren’t outright rooting for tanking the rest of the season.
That’s the subject of this Blazer’s Edge mini-Mailbag.
Can you give me a reason to even watch this team for the rest of the year? I understand what happened and why, but I want to know why bother? Every night is a new bad adventure it seems.
I can do better than that! I can give you three.
I understand that this level of basketball is not exactly up to the standards set for the team at the beginning of the season. They’re losing badly, and will probably continue to do so. This can be galling if you paid for season tickets, or even a League Pass subscription.
I’m not going to rehearse the argument about, “Fun to watch!” I find this version of the Blazers entertaining, but that’s subjective. Not everyone will, or should.
But even though this is sub-optimal play by NBA basketball standards, these are still NBA players. You and I might be looking forward to next season, the return of Damian Lillard, or whatever, but for many of these players, this will be their NBA experience. They won’t get this many minutes, or this big of a role, again.
As such, this is a fascinating experiment, a test of the maxim, “Lots of guys could make it in the NBA if they just had a chance.” Trendon Watford, Brandon Williams, and even Drew Eubanks are showing that.
Also, in a human sense, it’s cool to support these players, who forevermore will be able to say, “I was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers and played significant minutes.” Personally, I feel the urge to honor that dream for them. These guys ARE Blazers. The uniform will hang on their den walls forever. It’s real. There’s a certain charm to that as well, in addition to watching them fight to continue that dream.
Second, this is a good chance to see the basic schemes and emphases of Head Coach Chauncey Billups. With zero accomplished veterans taking the floor, Billups has a clean slate.
Coaching is always a mix of your ideals and the capacity/willingness of your players to carry them through. The more powerful the player, the greater voice he has in the process. Billups can scribble on the whiteboard all day long. If Damian Lillard wants the last shot of the game, Damian Lillard is getting the last shot of the game. By the way, the Head Coach would be the first one to support that.
With the current roster, the balance is biased towards the coach. We’re seeing his ideals played out in as pure a form as possible, with no star-power predilections to alter them.
Usually when this happens, the players are jaded, having endured a year of losing. Portland is fielding so many new and/or aspiring players right now, that they’re all eager.
This unusual situation, combined with a first-year coach, helps make subpar results interesting and somewhat educational. At least now we have a reference point for what Coach Billups means when he says, “His style of basketball.”
Third, these games DO matter. Plenty is riding on Portland’s performances over the last few games of the season. We detailed all of that in our rundown of draft possibilities early in the week.
Portland’s best chance of improving themselves in the foreseeable future centers around the NBA Draft. As such, every game that the Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans play matters. It’s almost like fighting for playoffs seeding—with all the excitement that entails—just in reverse.
If the Pelicans’ pick doesn’t transfer to the Blazers at the end of the season, that affects what Portland can do not just in the draft, but with trade possibilities. It also affects performance next season, which could domino into decisions about retaining team veterans.
If the Blazers have to settle for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Top-4 protected 2025 pick as a consolation prize instead of the Pelicans pick, the return almost certainly becomes more modest. It’s also delayed three years. This is the exact wrong time for that to happen. The Blazers don’t need answers three years from now. They need them this summer.
In a way, this team is experiencing more intrigue than they have since the 2017 NBA Draft, with ramifications that could rise to the importance of the 2015 off-season or greater, in coming years. Even if the games themselves are loopy, the implications most certainly are not. That’s reason enough to watch on its own.
Remember to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to answer as many as possible!