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Portland Trail Blazers Mid-Season Report

Kiyoshi Mio / USA TODAY Sports

The story of the Portland Trail Blazers season is really the story of one man, Damian Lillard. Lillard has time and time again willed this Blazers team to victory this season with sheer resilience and force. That has been the story for the past decade. The roster is sorely lacking talent and has been a tough sell for free agents in the geographically isolated Portland. The Blazers look like they may come up short of expectations once again.

Lack of Direction?

Is a power void and a lack of strong leadership for the Blazers to blame for the recent struggles of the organization? The death of longtime owner Paul Allen in 2018 left the Blazers without a “real” owner ( Allen’s trust led by his sister Jody holds control of the Blazers and all of his other assets.) Jody likely has limited interest in the on-court product since inheriting the team from her brother and Microsoft co-founder. Allen purchased the franchise from real estate developer Larry Weinburg for $70 million in 1988.

The Blazers reached the playoffs nineteen times under Allen’s ownership including two trips to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. The Blazers also dismissed long-time general manager Neil Olshey last season, the man who drafted Lillard was fired after accusations of Olshey creating a “toxic” work environment arose.

Head coach Terry Stotts was also let go after spending nine seasons with the Blazers, eight of which he led his team to the playoffs. Who’s going to shoulder the blame for the mediocrity that  the Blazers have perpetuated? Lillard most certainly has done all he can within his power.

Chauncey Billups has been lackluster to say the least since taking over head coaching duties in his first stint in the position in the NBA. Billups led the Blazers to an uninspiring 27-55 record after taking over head coaching duties last season and finished towards the bottom in the Western Conference. The Blazers fell well short of the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season, Lillard’s rookie year.

Rocky Trail

The Blazers have had plenty of issues of their own, struggling through inexperienced coaching and a handful of injuries throughout the season. Jusuf Nurkić and Anfernee Simons have both missed significant chunks of time in the first half of the season.

Jerami Grant has been as good as advertised for the Blazers in year one, providing a much-needed defensive presence on the wing and veteran leadership and consistent scoring. The line ends after Grant though. Lillard, Simons, Nurkić, and Grant are the only players in double-digit scoring for the Blazers.

The rest of the roster includes a bunch of young, inexperienced, and inconsistent wings. First-round pick Shaedon Sharpe, who’s shown flashes of brilliance at times but not been consistent thus far. Matisse Thybulle is an elite defender but not at all known for his offensive prowess. Nassir Little has not lived up to expectations since being drafted out of the University of North Carolina.

Lack of Support For Lillard

Lillard is having a career year but this team will only go as far as he can take them. This season though is maybe as good as we’ve maybe ever seen Lillard look. The seven-time All-Star also has had a sixty and fifty-point outing this year, not to mention Lillard leads the league with fourteen forty-point games.

The rest of the Blazers roster haven’t followed Lillards example, seemingly taking his already masterful game to to another level. You can call the Blazers roster top-heavy. Lillard, Simons, and Grants contracts are taking up nearly three-fourths of the Blazer’s entire payroll. The Blazers needs some of their young guys to pop like some champagne. There are too many All-Star duos around the league to contend with. Lillard may be having a historic season but is the combo of Simons and Grant enough for the Blazers to make a playoff push?

The Future

The multiple billion dollar questions remain however, is Lillard doing a disservice to himself and the Blazers? Not quite good enough to contend for a title yet but not bad enough to all-out rebuild. A rebuild could put the Blazers in a position to land one of the top prizes this summer, namely Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson.

The fact remains, The Blazers need to give Lillard more support and stop wasting the All-Star’s best years. Lillard has made it very clear he’s committed to the Blazers for the long haul, something that the Portland fan base has to be thrilled about but what they can’t be excited about is their team’s mediocre performance this season.

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