Even the most glass-half-full fans have to be upset. With their loss to Memphis on Sunday – their second to the Grizzlies in as many days – the Blazers have now dropped 5 games in a row and 8 of their last 10. Since the All-Star break, Portland is just 11-14. Once seeming like a lock to finish in the middle of the conference with hopes of climbing even higher, they now find themselves just 4 games over .500 as the West’s 7th seed; appearing more destined by the day to be headed towards the play-in game.
If you’re looking for silver linings, four of Portland’s last six losses have been by a combined five points. Surely that bad luck won’t continue, right? You could point to Damian Lillard clearly not having been himself over this recent stretch; bothered by a hamstring injury that sidelined him for three games and is clearly still lingering. Even for those trying to remain positive, though; the fact is that the Blazers are 32-28 with just 12 games remaining in the regular season. They’ve had to manage new players, unfortunate injuries, some bad luck in close games, and tough stretches against really good teams; sure, but that’s the story of every team in the NBA this season.
With calls for Head Coach Terry Stotts to be held accountable (fired) after the season intensifying after each loss; I’ve slowly evolved from one of the aforementioned glass-half-full fans urging a wait and see approach to one of the flame-wielding villagers at the gate who everyone else is begging to calm down. Fire Stotts? No, fire everyone. Blow it all up.
Damian Lillard Should Be the Only Immovable Asset
At this point, I’m perfectly fine with this being a Game of Thrones situation where Enes Kanter just keeps Lillard in his room while the rest of the team is blown up à la the Sept of Baelor. (For legal purposes this is where I make clear I don’t wish to see any contingent of the Trail Blazers organization set ablaze by green-flamed wildfire except maybe Blaze the mascot because he’s described as a Trail Cat and that’s never sat well with me).
Seriously though, what are we holding onto?
I understand CJ McCollum is a player unlikely to be moved given both his contract and relationship with Lillard. That’s fine; McCollum is a great ambassador for Portland and an elite shooting guard. But from Stotts to President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey; and even young talents like Anfernee Simons, the idea of anyone besides Lillard being untouchable seems delusional.
This is Stotts’ 9th season with the Blazers. They’ve made the playoffs every year aside from his first; but have made the Conference Finals just once and have lost in the first round four times. During his tenure, the team has finished with a top-10 rated defense just twice.
Olshey, for his part, has become exceptionally skilled at finding ways to inconsequentially tweak the team’s lineup over the years; ensuring Lillard is surrounded by coaches and players he enjoys working alongside and spending time with while doing nothing to meaningfully adjust the trajectory of the franchise. Gary Trent Jr. turns into Norman Powell. Nicolas Batum turns into Al-Farouq Aminu who turns into Robert Covington. No major risks. No major disturbances. The status quo, along with Olshey’s job remains protected.
The Blazers have lost 3 straight one-possession games.— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 24, 2021
They are 3-9 in their last 12 games.
They have the 3rd worst defense in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/1z0v0Lncu3
Lillard is arguably the best point guard in the league not named Steph Curry, and right now, the prime of a generational talent is being squandered in an NBA city that cannot afford to squander generational talents. What is the end-game to ensure he has the pieces around him to compete for a Championship? Since the trade-deadline acquisition of Normal Powell, Portland is 6-10. That’s not only a result of Powell’s play, of course, but this is a player we’ve heard rumors the Blazers would like to extend a major offer to in the coming offseason.
Have we seen anything in his 16 games with the team to believe a full season alongside Lillard and McCollum will rectify the defensive issues that have hamstrung this unit and vault them into title contention? Is the plan to once again hope Anfernee Simons makes a gigantic leap; or that Zach Collins has a fully healthy season and alters this team’s complexion?
What’s the strategy?
Is this thing on?
My main issue with fans who cried foul and called for Stotts’ firing in the past is they never put forward a better solution. There was never a proposal of what coach would replace him and how that would impact the team’s fate. There wasn’t a suggestion of what players to target in a trade, or what contracts we had on the books that could ever make those deals possible. In short, I got angry that the fans expected me to rally around their ideas without any meaningful plan.
Why have I been holding fans to a higher standard than the organization?