If scientists discover that the Trail Blazers have been stuck in an isolated time-loop since 2013, the fans may buy it. How else does one explain five first-round exits in the playoffs across eight seasons with head coach Terry Stotts and Damian Lillard running the show?
Portland has made the playoffs every season since 2013-2014. The streak continued this season when they earned the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference with a 42-30 record. In each loop, you know that the clock will eventually strike “Dame Time,” and Lillard will give fans the slightest glimpse of his ceiling. This year it came in an elimination Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets when he forced not one but two overtime periods on a tear from beyond the perimeter for 55 points. Elimination soon follows, and the loop begins again.
Portland has only advanced to the conference semifinals three times, including their exciting run to the conference finals in 2018-2019. Of course, the Golden State Warriors bounced them in four games. Sure, the Stotts-Lillard era, unfortunately, coincided with the Warriors’ dynastic run through Lillard’s prime. Yes, the Warriors are responsible for Portland’s departure from the playoffs three times in the last six seasons.
Like most small markets, the Trail Blazers aren’t a destination spot for free agents despite Lillard’s presence. The front office whiffed this year by sending a first-round pick, Trevor Ariza, and rookie Isaiah Stewart in a multi-team deal that netted them Robert Covington from the Houston Rockets. Ariza wound up with the Miami Heat, where he had a better regular season than Covington. Stewart was sent to Detroit, where he averaged nearly nine points and seven rebounds. All the while, Covington averaged just over eight points and almost seven rebounds. According to PTST’s Garrett Brooks, Portland did win their transaction with the Toronto Raptors for Norman Powell before the trade deadline. Powell did account for a victory in the playoffs.
Make sure to check out all of our other NBA Team Season Recaps.
As usual, Portland was good enough in the regular season to reach the playoffs, barely avoiding play-in games despite tying the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks with a .583 win percentage. Lillard did what he does every year, putting up another season that picked up some MVP chatter for his value to the team. CJ McCollum did what he tends to do as well, averaging more than 20 points alongside Lillard. The rest of the team was talented, of course, but could be inconsistent during the season. Projected to finish the season 40-32, the Trail Blazers slightly exceeded expectations, though the playoffs were the standard regardless.
The team had a winning record inside the Moda Center as well as on the road. Finishing with a five-game winning streak and taking eight of their last ten looked promising. Until Portland shows an ability to take a playoff series consistently, the bar will always be set low.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Damian Lillard
Lillard is everything to this franchise. He finished third in the NBA in scoring at 28.8 points per game and seventh in assists with 7.5 per game. With the seventh-most minutes per game of all players with 35.8, Portland can’t go long without him on the floor. His help in Carmelo Anthony and McCollum didn’t provide much, rather doing more harm than good, with each turning the ball over more than six percent of the time on every 100 possessions.
Defensive Player of the Year – Robert Covington
Covington’s production on the floor didn’t equal the value that the Trail Blazers paid to acquire him via trade. That said, he joined the team and became one of the best defenders. Covington was one of just two players on the team to average a block and steal per game. He finished the regular season with a defensive rating of 112, which was third on the team.
Sixth Man of the Year – Carmelo Anthony
Having just finished his 18th season in the NBA, there is no shame in the Sixth Man of the Year being Anthony’s role. How he spent almost an entire season out of the league just a few years ago is still mind-boggling. Starting just three games during the season, Anthony’s primary role is to provide a spark off of the bench. Shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc, he definitely does. He averaged 13.4 points per game on the season.
Anthony still shows flashes of old Melo, scoring 20 points or more 14 times and 29 total games of scoring 15 points or more. His best nights tend to come when he’s really feeling it from beyond the arc, as with his 29-point game against the Charlotte Hornets. In that contest, he connected on 6-10 from deep and picked up five steals as well.
Biggest Surprise – Enes Kanter
In 2019 after being released by the New York Knicks, Kanter joined the Trailblazers for the remainder of the 2018-2019 season. That year, he helped the team make a push into the Western Conference Finals, where Golden State swept the team. That offseason he signed with the Boston Celtics and had a down season last year. He averaged at or near his career lows across the board. In November, the Celtics dealt Kanter back to Portland in a multi-team deal, and he had a bounceback year.
Though he couldn’t crack the rotation for the playoffs, he was consistent all season. Kanter averaged 24 minutes and started 35 games, to go with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Basketball fans won’t soon forget his 24-point, 30-rebound performance from April against the Pistons, either.
Biggest Disappointment – Terry Stotts
Coaching was the biggest disappointment of the season; once again, Coach Stotts got the team close, only to fail in the end. At some point, just making the playoffs wasn’t going to be enough. With Lillard and McCollum at or turning 30 years old, their primes feel wasted. From a personnel standpoint, the pieces are there on the court, which means coaching is the real issue. In the end, it cost him his job—utter disappointment.
Stuck in that standings purgatory of failing to advance in the playoffs yet missing out on the lottery. The first-round pick they had traded away to acquire Covington was lottery protected, which means it is now gone. Unless some other move is made, Portland won’t be participating in the draft this year after trading their second-round pick this year back in 2019.
Following Portland’s elimination from the playoffs to the Nuggets, Lillard shared a pretty straightforward cryptic tweet on his Instagram. “How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation,” he wrote, quoting lyrics from a Nipsey Hussle song. Days later, the organization fired Stotts. Now the Trail Blazers will attempt to find a coach that can capitalize on one of the league’s premier talents. With most of the roster locked up for next year, no draft picks, and $109 million in cap space, look for Portland to overpay on some pieces to give Lillard more help.
Follow Jonas Clark on Twitter @jarkclonas
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images