Another awesome NBA season is upon us, Rip City, and now it’s time to bone up on your Blazer knowledge. Can the Blazers top last year’s improbable, magical run to the Western Conference Finals? Behold, you are now presented with 10 solid reasons this year is going to be huuuge.
10. The Big Shake-Up
Trade news flew fast and furious throughout the NBA this summer, especially in the Western Conference. Kawhi Leonard ditched his championship Toronto squad to form a Clippers superteam in LA with Paul George. LeBron finally lured big Anthony Davis to the Lakers to form another superteam in the same damn city. The Blazers’ top two nemeses, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, joined forces down in Houston. And with the Warriors finally weakened, there’s no longer a clear favorite in the West. Sure, those LA teams look scary. But so do several other teams, including our Blazers.
9. Rip City Shuffle
Unlike summers past, the Trail Blazers actively shuffled the deck during the off-season. This year’s team will feature the biggest turnover we’ve seen in some time. Gone are the lovable but somewhat erratic role players like Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, and Al-Farouq Aminu. In their place come a fresh crop of hopefuls with some serious upside (see reasons 2-5). The perennial rub, as Shaun Powell of NBA.com put it, is that the Blazers are “a player shy of running with the true heavyweights.” Will these new faces be enough to tip the scales to put the Blazers in heavyweight contention?
8. “The Best Backcourt in the NBA”
Bleacher Report just ranked Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as the number one backcourt duo in all the land. For years this mantle was held by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors, but with Thompson slated to be out most of the season with a torn ACL, and hotshot guards like Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul on the decline, the torch has officially been passed. Last season was a big test for these two, as many wondered whether the team could truly succeed with two such similar players. Judging from their new massive multi-year contracts, it appears they’ve passed this test with flying colors.
7. Lillard for Life
Coming off a career year, Damian Lillard signed a “supermax” $196 million deal extension, meaning he has committed to the Blazers until the 2024-25 season. This slates him to become the first $50-million-a-year player in NBA history. Is he worth it? Hell yes! There’s nobody like Dame D.O.L.L.A., who earned the love and respect of Portland fans for life after delivering an impressive canon of gutsy game winners and truly classy behavior in his first seven seasons here. His internet-breaking, league-altering cold-killing of OKC in the first round of the playoffs is the stuff of legend. And this should be the season when Lillard finally receives true consideration for the MVP award —a honor bestowed on only one other Trail Blazer (Bill Walton in ’77). It’s no secret that it’s hard to lure superstars to Portland, so it’s pretty cool that we’ve been able to grow one of our own.
6. Jusuf’s Leg
It was the most brutal, eye-popping injury ever to take place in Moda Center. And just two short months later the congenial Bosian giant Jusuf Nurkić was back, standing on that broken leg and cheering his team to victory in last season’s playoffs. But when will he be back on the court? The Blazers need this guy if they are to make a serious run this season, and no one knows for sure when he’ll be ready (estimates put it around February) or how well he’ll play when he returns.
5. City of Redemption
Portland has lately become known as the place where disgruntled players can get a second chance (see: Jusuf Nurkić, Moe Harkless, Enes Kanter). This season, the Blazers will take on the ultra-talented seven-footer Hassan Whiteside, who, after wowing the league in Miawwwmi, fell out of favor and was rumored to be a bit of a headcase. That said, Whiteside can fill a big hole for the Blazers with Nurkić recovering from his broken leg. This same dynamic holds true with Croatian youngster Mario Hezonja, who underperformed for two seasons after being selected number five in the 2017 draft, and Kent Bazemore, a fine shooter who fell off in Atlanta. Will these guys find redemption in Rip City?
At the very end of last season, Anfernee Simons had a breakout 37-point game against the Kings, which got the buzz buzzing about this baby-faced 20-year-old. Selected by the Trail Blazers right out of high school, Simons spent much of last season watching his mentors from the bench, but word is he’ll get the green light this year, and Blazers fans could be in for a treat. Simons has a sweet game and remarkable poise for a player so young. This could be the year we reference when we tell our grandkids, “I knew that kid was special when....”
3. Old School
Lost amid all the marquee acquisitions this summer was the addition of future hall-of-famer Pau Gasol to the Blazers roster. Yes, Pau is getting comparatively “old” (39), but the guy is a six-time All-Star with two championship rings. It’s been a long time since the Blazers could boast that kind of pedigree in uniform. And, yes, the guy can still ball.
2. Chips on Shoulders
Portland will always have a chip on its collective shoulder. Even after last year, most pundits don’t see the Blazers as serious contenders. Vegas has them at 40-to-1 to win the championship. But we like long odds! Lillard famously uses being overlooked as fuel for his fire. Blazers rookie Nassir Little would do well to do the same. The high-flying wingman was expected to go early in the college draft this summer, but somehow fell all the way to the 25th pick where the Blazers snapped him up. Make those other 24 teams regret passing you up, Nassir!
1. 50, Baby!
The Trail Blazers turn 50 this year and are celebrating that fact in a number of cool ways, including a brand-new court design and a “throwback” pre-season game against Denver on October 8 at their old stomping grounds in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the team played from 1970 to 1995. Rip City has an awesome history, and we’ll get to revel in that all year long.