Players Remember The Season That Was, Look Forward To The Future At 2019 Exit Interviews
Between preseason, the regular season and the postseason, the Portland Trail Blazers played 103 games over the course of the last 234 days. And then all of the sudden, it's over. After spending the better part of the last eight months together, the players and coaches tend to scatter as soon as there are no more games left to be played, turning what is usually a hub of activity at the team's practice facility into Tualatin into something of a quiet cavern, at least until pre-draft workout start later in the offseason.
But before going their separate ways, the team converges at the practice facility to empty out their lockers, say their goodbyes and answer questions from the media one last time during exit interviews. So after the Trail Blazers were eliminated from the Western Conference Finals by the Golden State Warriors Monday night, the team met up roughly 12 hours later to put the final touches on their 2018-19 campaign.
Here's what the team had to say at exit interviews in a season that saw the team lose their owner to cancer and their starting center to a gruesome injury, only to end up with their first trip to the conference finals in almost 20 years.
"Just looking back on our season, I thought it was a special year for us. I think since the roster turnover, each year we've come back with the right attitude. We've been able to stick together through a lot of adversity. I think just what we've kind of hung our hats on, what we've believed in, our culture, the togetherness, we've been able to truly build on that. I think we should be encouraged, getting to the Western Conference Finals, being one of the final four teams remaining without out starting center, dealing with a lot of injuries on our team. I look back at it and obviously this is not how we planned on going out once we got here, but I think it was a great season for us."
"It was an incredible season just based on what we went through this year. Obviously Mr. Allen passing away before the season starts, Anie getting diagnosed with cancer before the season starts. And then obviously you go through the year, expectations weren't very high outside of us internally. Nurk goes down, down the stretch I get hurt, things just kind of keep happening throughout the season but we keep figuring out ways to rally around each other and kind of build on what we've been able to establish here and learn how to lean on other people, play for other people. I think it was a pretty incredible year, to win 53 games in the regular season -- felt like we gave some games away in the regular season, which happens every year -- and to compete in the playoffs and then get a chance to play against the Warriors again, basically lead 102 minutes and still not figure out ways to win games down the stretch. I think it was a really good year, a challenging year but I think we learned a lot about ourselves and I think the community should be proud of what we were able to accomplish. Looking forward to building on that in the future.
"I felt great about the season, another one in the books. I really liked just being healthy the whole season -- that's plagued me the last two seasons -- and to get another season where every game I was available and ready and everything like that was an accomplishment, for sure.
"I've been a free agent a couple times now, I understand the process, understand that there's nothing you can do until free agency starts. It'll be nice just to get a vacation, it's been a long season. It is interesting, I've been here for a while now and haven't had to worry about it in a couple of years now. Having to worry about it now is a little different than what I'm used to going into the summer."
"It was dope. As I said last night, I think we did a lot of great things this season. Especially coming in thinking a lot of people pegging us not to make the playoffs, we were able to push it to the Western Conference Finals... We went from being a non-playoff caliber team to a potential championship-caliber team had the Warriors not been so battle tested and Steph Curry born so blessed... Other than that, it was cool, I think we had a lot of fun. I think obviously as a unit we were legit a unit, legitimately a team. I think throughout the season we had numerous different players besides our stars show up and have great moments for us. The morale overall was always one team, one bad, one sound type of mentality. I think as a player and a teammate and a pro that's what you can really appreciate the most."
"The last two offseasons have been incredible. I knew coming in two years ago that I wasn't going to play. I dug myself a hole, I would say -- rightfully so -- there was a lack of confidence from the staff, maybe from the players and I had to earn that confidence and respect back. Last summer was another huge jump for me, trailing with Joel (Emiid) and all those other guys that Drew (Hanlon) has, playing five-on-five a lot, training Monday through Saturday, early in the morning, lifting, I've talked about it a million times. So this summer -- I'll always train every summer -- is like that last step. I would say that the year I had, this was the most confident I've ever been, the best I've ever played, the most consistent I've ever played and I felt I had a very, very good season. When I was given the opportunity to play I feel like I produced and gave our team a chance to win on a night-to-night basis. Some things happen, I fall out of the rotation, but I guess one thing that I'm really proud of, one thing I always talk about, is being a true professional and staying ready. So although the end of the season for our team was not what we wanted -- we ran into the Warriors, what can we say, that's a hell of a team. Nobody wants to be swept but getting to the Western Conference Finals, it had been 19 years. That's incredible."
"I think overall, looking back on it, we have a lot to be proud of about this season. I think it was a success. Obviously it ended in a way where we would have liked a better outcome but just thinking about everything we've been through this season and that fact that we were able to make it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, that's a huge accomplishment for us as a team. I'm extremely proud of our guys and I think we had a pretty successful season."
"It's been an amazing experience. You guys know my situation, I was probably on the worst team in the league. This team, this organization, the whole state, probably not just made me a better basketball player, it made me a better person on and off the court. Probably if I look at my career, I've been in the league for eight years, probably signing here was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career."
"It was fun. Getting a chance to come here, play with such a great group of guys, great fanbase, Neil reaching out and really expressing interest and seeing how I could help fit the team on both ends of the ball. It kind of worked out how we envisioned it, like he explained to me on the phone. I couldn't asked for a better situation for me, especially with how things have transpired in the past couple of years for me, I think it was much needed. Just being with this group of guys has meant a lot to me. It's something I'll always remember, regardless of what transpires. Fifteen, 20 years from now I'll be able to look back and appreciate this time that I had."
"Honestly, I think we proved a lot of people wrong. A lot of people had us not even in the playoff race this year, so to be able to come out and be within four games of going to the Finals is a pretty big accomplishment for our team. Especially with everything we kind of went through on the court, off the court, with injuries and a couple people on the staff that have helped us a lot this year went through a lot. To kind of stick together and persevere through all of that, and I think the way we did it. There's a lot of, especially in the league nowadays, a lot of superstars, a lot of narrative around that one guy can do it, one guy can carry a team. If a team fails, it's on one guy, if a team succeeds it's on one guy and I think, obviously Dame and CJ carried a lot of the load and so did Nurk before he got hurt, but the fact that we did it together as a team, every night it was somebody else stepping up, I thought that was pretty special."
"I've become much more of a smart player, slowed the game down for me a lot. I think you could tell that throughout the end of the season. When I went in the game you could see I was much more comfortable out there. I think that carried on throughout the postseason."