Blazers

Offseason Moves and Injuries Leave Blazers Struggling Early

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After last year’s awe-inspiring run to the Western Conference, it was easy to lament the Portland Trail Blazers as a true Western Conference power. Damian Lillard has finally gained world recognition as an MVP candidate and climbed higher on the league’s point guard rankings. CJ McCollum’s stock rose to unseen heights after dazzling on the largest stage the Blazers have been on since 2000. Portland’s young pieces and veterans performed at their highest levels. The aura was magical, until this offseason.

Summer 2019, however, changed the face of the league. Only a league-wide expansion could measure up to the amount of movement seen this offseason. And no team was more negatively affected by those transactions than the Blazers.

What about the Warriors? Yes, the Warriors are starting an injury-riddled season without Klay Thompson due to an ACL tear in the Finals. Steph Curry has fallen because of a broken hand against the Suns and Draymond Green has torn a ligament in his finger, and the newest Warrior, D’Angelo Russell, has been nursing a sprained ankle. None of these losses result from the massive shift that took place just a few months ago. They lost Kevin Durant, yes, but his departure netted the aforementioned Russell — an All Star in his own right.

The Raptors maybe? Nope. Not even the loss of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is as detrimental. His absence, as daunting as it is, doesn’t remove the grizzled vets, solid young point guard in Fred VanVleet, and the emergence of budding superstar Pascal Siakam. This roster is more than enough to still be competitive in the East.

Lost Assets

The Blazers, on the other hand, loss two assets that impacted their peak defensive identity. Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are now on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Orlando Magic, respectively– two switchable forwards who bolstered their now-depleted wing depth.

Harkless and Aminu took on the best perimeter players. Now they leave those assignments to Rodney Hood and Kent Bazemore. Opponents know Bazemore for his 3-and-D play.  Meanwhile, Hood gives the Blazers the third shot creator they so desperately needed when playing the Warriors.

As needed as that vaunted third scorer is in the NBA, it pales in comparison to having two high-quality defenders that covered Paul George and Russell Westbrook like a crippling blanket. In the era of dynamic duos, that core would have been stifled Harkless, Aminu, and Whiteside (or when healthy, Jusuf Nurkic).

It’s hard to place the sole reason for the Blazers’ early season worries. The West got better — a scary fact to ponder when you realize the Empire of the NBA is no longer a threat. They would have some of the best personnel to corral the epic pairing in LA, let alone the rest of the league.

Health is the focal point of the obvious shortcomings for the club, but it started before Zach Collins’ injury. Four months without a utility guy like Collins will be disastrous for an already shorthanded team. The three months that occurred prior to that are where the real problems aligned. Fans and foes alike will watch as the Lillard and Co. try to right this ship. Portland finally snapped their four-game skid with an overtime win against Atlanta, but there are still numerous underlying issues at hand.

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