It’s true there are many more important things going on right now than the start of another NBA season—but hey, sometimes we all need a simple distraction, and isn’t that what professional sports are for? And the Portland Trail Blazers are a pleasure-filled distraction as the darkness of autumn descends. With the arrival of cold and rain, a new and exciting show is coming to town, and the more you know about it, the more there is to enjoy. So get ready, Rip City: Here are 10 solid reasons to pay attention to the 2018-19 Trail Blazers season.
1) It’s Put Up or Shut Up Time
Diehard Blazers fans have been following the twists and turns of the offseason, praying for some needle-moving changes in the lineup that might propel our team to the top. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for Portland, and most sports pundits agree that this year’s Blazer team looks similar in strength and skill to last year’s squad, which finished third in the heated Western conference but faltered in the playoffs. And now that the Western conference has gotten even better (see reason #4), treading water isn’t going to cut it.
Consistency in a line-up can be a good thing, but if this year’s Blazers don’t make some real noise, major changes will be coming—most notably to the celebrated backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Fans have debated for some time if those two can truly carry a team to glory, and this season will almost certainly be their last as a pairing if something big doesn’t happen. Fan favorites, both Dame and CJ want to stay together—but if that’s going to happen, the Blazers need to take things up a level.
2) We’ve Got Curry!
Yes, that’s right, Curry is on our team now! Oh wait, sorry... not that Curry. We picked up his younger brother, Seth. This might seem like a poor consolation prize, but Seth Curry is actually a pretty good player. He sat out last season due to injury and the Blazers scooped him up from Dallas to replace backup point guard Shabazz Napier. Curry should be an upgrade, especially if he can hit three-pointers with anything near the consistency of his big brother Steph.
During the Blazers’ pre-season media day, the mantra was “more three- pointers!” This is an NBA-wide trend, but the Blazers are poised to be particularly good at the long ball this year. Lillard and McCollum are already hot shooters from downtown, and along with Seth Curry, the Blazers have added Nik Stauskas, a Canadian guy who hasn’t really found his groove in the NBA yet. But if you don’t think this Canuck can hit from distance, watch the YouTube video of him draining 70 out of 76 three pointers—including 46 in a row. The Blazers also drafted Gary Trent Jr. out of Duke, where he hit over 40 percent of his deep shots. Along with that, each and every player on the team announced they’d been focusing on three-pointers over the summer, so get ready for some serious rain at the Moda Center.
4) LeBron and Fuckin’ LA
The most dramatic thing to happen in the NBA this summer was Lebron James’ move to the LA Lakers. This changed the power dynamic of the whole league and immediately turned a low-end LA team into a national spectacle. Since the Lakers were unable to lure other superstars during the off-season, they settled for adding four of the biggest head cases in the entire NBA: Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, and Lance Stephenson. All four are good players, but they’ve each had well-documented incidents of lunacy on the court—most notably Stephenson, who famously blew air into Lebron’s ear as they stood next to each during a game. Lebron and Stephenson have been squabbling for years, and now they’re on the same team? It remains to be seen if the Lakers can actually become contenders, but suddenly Portland’s old-time rivalry with LA has gotten way more interesting. Plus, with Lebron in the Western conference, the “King” will come to town twice as often, starting with the Blazers home opener—a huge, nationally televised game on October 18. Talk about a hot ticket!
5) Portugal. The Man
Did you know the guys in this band are serious Blazer fans? They played the Blazers’ trumpet theme song at Coachella and ushered the entire Blazers’ dance squad onstage at their last Portland show, along with Damian Lillard. The Blazers have plenty of indie cred, as a matter of fact: Portland rockers Colin Meloy, Carrie Brownstien, Stephen Malkmus, and Janet Weiss are all regularly seen at games.
6) CJ McCollum Just Got Engaged
Okay, this is more of a fun fact rather than a compelling reason to support the team—but let’s wish this young couple well, and while we’re at it, check out McCollum’s excellent new podcast, Pull Up. McCollum is an avid journalist and has even launched a journalism program at Portland’s Madison High School. The more you know about this guy, the more you like him!
7) The Year of Zach Collins?
Whenever folks talk about the future of the Blazers, the subject tends to drift to young Zach Collins. As a rookie last year, the 7-foot-tall Collins was a pleasant surprise: He showed skillful grit and flashes of dominant play both under the rim and outside. Over the summer, the Blazers let well-liked back-up center Ed Davis walk away to Brooklyn. Many fans disliked this move, but it does signal a big show of faith in Collins, who now stands to fill the crucial back-up center role behind the streaky Jusuf Nurkic. Collins is only 20 years old, and while he was once extremely skinny, he seems to be gaining muscle by the week. All eyes will be on him as this season begins. Frontcourt depth has long been an issue for this team, and if Collins can have a breakout second season, the Blazers could be going places.
Did you know the Blazers currently have three players—Seth Curry, Gary Payton II, and Gary Trent Jr.—whose fathers also played in the NBA? Payton may not survive much past the pre-season, but if he sticks around, that puts Portland in the rare position of having three second-generation NBA players on its roster.
9) Intriguing Newcomers: Anfernee Simons and Chinanu Onuaku
Anfernee Simons is only 19 years old but looks even younger. He’s considered a “raw” talent—a kid who never played in college, but was picked by the Blazers in the summer draft thanks to a technicality involving a year playing postgraduate high school ball. There’s something enticingly smooth about this young fellow’s game, and he’s shown a lot of poise for someone with so little experience. It’s hard to see how Simons will get much playing time with so much talent currently jamming up Portland’s backcourt, but when he does make it out there, keep your eye out for something special.
As for Chinanu Onuaku, he’s a big man who spent the last two years on the bench at Houston. He probably won’t make the final roster for the Blazers and is likely headed for a year in the “G-League,” but if we do see him on the court, look out for his awesome underhanded free-throw. It’s ridiculous that more NBA players don’t shoot free-throws this way, especially low percentage big men, who often get intentionally fouled. Thumbs up to Onuaku for not giving a damn what the haters say!
10) The Evil Empire is Back
Look, I don’t care how many of you are originally from the Bay area, or how cool Steph Curry and Kevin Durant may be—you cannot live in Portland and support the goddamn Warriors. It’s true that Warriors fans at one time had it just about as rough as those of us who love the Blazers... but now they’ve won two championships in three years and seem predestined to win a third. They are officially a dynasty and as such, we must covet their downfall. On top of this, whenever the Warriors come to town their fans deluge the Moda Center, making it difficult to tell which is actually the home team. Few teams seem poised to give the Warriors any trouble, and one of them is Portland, who would’ve met the Warriors in the playoffs last year if they hadn’t imploded in the first round. The Blazers will play the Warriors four times this season, and each game will be like that battle at the end of Star Wars where the Rebels face incredible odds to take out the Death Star. Use the Force, Blazers. Trust in the Force....
So there you have it, folks—10 good reasons to get on board with Rip City this year. The new season is about to begin, and the possibilities are endless.