30 Teams in 30 Days: Portland Trail Blazers look to bounce back after playoff disappointment
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Who’s new: Seth Curry (free agency), Nik Stauskas (free agency), Anfernee Simons (Draft), Gary Trent Jr. (Draft)
Who’s gone: Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier
The lowdown: Juiced once again by an elite backcourt, the Blazers took the Northwest Division title and nearly won 50 games, teasing the NBA world about their potential to rattle the cage in the postseason. Alas, it was all a fantasy, as the Blazers were quickly swept in the first round by the Pelicans. Damian Lillard delivered his best regular season and earned an All-NBA first team appointment, yet he shot 35 percent against the Pelicans and symbolized the Blazers’ crash.
Center Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t recreate the same impact he had when he arrived in 2017 and the imbalance continued between’s Portland’s backcourt and the front line. Overall, 2017-18 was a bittersweet experience for the Blazers, who were left to wonder how far they could go with Lillard and CJ McCollum hauling the load.
The Blazers don’t want another rehash of what happened in the summer of 2016, when they were flush with money but made offseason roster missteps.
Portland gave generous deals to such role players like Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard that summer, essentially committing to that roster. With Lillard and McCollum rightly commanding big salaries, Portland was in a salary-cap pickle, largely prohibited from doing much else in subsequent offseasons.
Two years later, none of highly-paid supporting cast have made a big difference. The Blazers enter the 2018-19 season with virtually the same rotation and, therefore, little chance to worry the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets out West.
Portland could only extend Nurkic, sign a couple of marginal guards in free agency and use its first-round pick on a baby-faced teenager who skipped college. Meanwhile, the LeBron James-led Lakers, the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets all figure to improve and challenge for Portland’s spot in the West.
Portland refused to go the extra mile to keep Davis, a beloved and well-respected hard-working big man who signed with the Brooklyn Nets. His tenacity might be missed because Portland did nothing to replace it this summer.
The Blazers did, however, give a reported four years and $48 million to Nurkic as both sides had little choice but strike a deal. A soft free-agent market – especially for centers – cut into into Nurkic’s leverage as a restricted free agent.
Nurkic, 24, is easily No. 3 on the Blazers’ talent checklist and they would’ve been worse off without him this season. He’s a seven-footer who’s active on the glass, brings a decent touch and would even be more effective in the pick and roll if the Blazers utilized it more. He’s not outstanding in any one area, however, and his role remains secondary on a team with McCollum and Lillard.
The most intriguing summer decision was to draft Simons, a true preps-to-pro who is well-rounded basketball-wise and much more mature, behavior-wise, than his age or face will show. He turned down the chance to play at Louisville after the school was rocked by scandal and basically went through basketball drills and life tutorials at IMG.
That said, it’s tough to imagine Simons going from virtually no competition to key rotation player for a 49-win NBA team in a year. Most likely, he’ll be the pet project of the Blazers’ player-development program and maybe show good strides come springtime.
In Curry and Stauskas, the Blazers picked up some 3-point shooters who have had their share of trials.
Curry has had misfortune so far in his four years in the NBA — beyond trying to exist the shadow of his brother, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. He played well for the Sacramento Kings in 2015-16 and then, after finding a home with the Dallas Mavericks last season, suffered a stress fracture in his right tibia and missed most of last season. Though not a pure point guard, Curry does bring a good shooting stroke (43.2 percent on 3-pointers in his career). If healthy, he might be great addition to Portland’s rotation.
Stauskas was a bust in Sacramento as a former No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft and the Kings had to sacrifice a future first-rounder just to find a taker for him. He fizzled in Philly and Brooklyn as well, raising doubts about his career (34.9 career 3-point percentage). This could represent his last chance in the NBA.
When asked this summer about the state of the Blazers, Lillard was mostly positive in his response. We’ll see if that changes by next spring.
Coming Next: Cleveland Cavaliers
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