Dane Delgado

The Breakdown: The night Simons went off against the Kings

The Breakdown: The night Simons went off against the Kings

Was Anfernee Simons’ massive game against the Sacramento Kings in the final regular-season game of the year the catalyst that pushed the Portland Trail Blazers to the Western Conference Finals? You could very well make that case.

 

Simons' 37-point performance bolstered a huge comeback win that pushed the Blazers into the playoff bracket that allowed them to avoid the Golden State Warriors and until the third round. 

 

In any event, Simons' big night surprised even ardent supporters of the burgeoning guard. So how did he put together one of the best moments of Portland’s regular season?

 

Check out the very final part of our mini-series produced this summer where we wind back the clock and dissect some of the best moments of the magical 2018-19 Blazers season. 

 

Watch the full video breakdown above to see how Simons' used rebounding, passing, and driving techniques — including a special gather move — that allowed him to create space and trick the defense into backing off of him from the 3-point line.

The Breakdown: Lillard's one bad habit

The Breakdown: Lillard's one bad habit

Damian Lillard just keeps getting better each and every year. It's hard to pick out things to criticize the Portland Trail Blazers star on, particularly after his defensive renaissance in the playoffs this year. Indeed, most of Portland’s failings around him involve the rest of the roster. 

But Lillard isn't perfect, and over the course of this season, there was one thing that he kept doing that really stuck out to me that I think was his worst habit.

So what was it?

The most inexplicable part of Lillard’s game this year was how much he would jump into the air without having a plan on what to do with the ball.
Time and time again this happened when Lillard didn’t have any options on drives as defenses collapsed upon him. It was very obvious when opponents had scouted his favorite tendencies.

This was exacerbated in the playoffs when Lillard teams were not only trapping the Portland guard, but anticipating how he'd react to the trap.

So what can Lillard do to curb this bad habit, and come back better next year? Watch the full video breakdown above.

The Breakdown: Lillard goes off in Orlando

The Breakdown: Lillard goes off in Orlando

Damian Lillard had a lot of excellent moments over the course of this past season, but we were treated to a look into his future way back on Oct. 25, 2018, when he scored 41 points against the Orlando Magic in a win in Central Florida.

Lillard added a bunch of things to his bag over the course of last summer, and those were on full display against the Magic in just the fourth game of the young season. It was apparent that Lillard was craftier around the hoop, with his up-and-under move becoming more difficult to contest.

Although Orlando ended up being the 8th-best defensive team in the NBA, the Oct. 25 matchup saw Lillard put a whupping on DJ Augustin, Nikola Vucevic, and the young Orlando big men in the pick-and-roll.

Augustin received the brunt of Lillard's ire. He defended Lillard on 44 possessions in that game, allowing him to score 16 points while shooting 50% on 3-pointers. That was aided by the fact that the younger Magic big men were not ready to defend Lillard confidently.

 

When the Magic switched Jerian Grant onto Lillard, it didn't do much help. In the end, size didn't sway the Blazers star off his path of destruction in Central Florida. Combined with excellent passing and much-needed defensive rebounding, Lillard's 41-point outburst was one of his best games of the season.


Check out the third video in our mini-series produced this summer where we wind back the clock and dissect some of the best moments of the magical 2018-19 Blazers season. 

 

Do the Blazers need CJ McCollum to get better on defense?

Do the Blazers need CJ McCollum to get better on defense?

We know how well Damian Lillard played on defense in the 2019 postseason. It was as if the Portland Trail Blazers guard flipped a switch, with opposing guards unable to dribble without Lillard poking at the ball. He nipped at them incessantly. He became a hassle.

This was a change for Portland, who will be able to add a defensive presence at the guard position without needing to actually make an acquisition should Lillard's postseason bleed into next year. Lillard’s a wholly-formed offensive player, but his defense was always lacking. Forget adding additional range or new dribble moves in the offseason —  defense is what we want to see from Lillard as an offseason addition.

But what about CJ McCollum?

The long-standing knock against the Trail Blazers — and against the roster construction theory that Neil Olshey has put in place — is that they cannot survive with both Lillard and McCollum on defense. They aren't big enough, and their offensive impact is too similar and not great enough to outpace what issues seem to always form in the postseason. 

And frankly, this stands in staunch defiance of the numbers surrounding McCollum's defense… in the regular season. For his position, McCollum defended the pick-and-roll, spot-up, and hand-off play types well, according to Synergy. In fact, the only real area where McCollum struggled of any consequence was in isolation as opponents drove toward his left. 

Paired with some of McCollum’s more efficient defensive tendencies (like his propensity to shy away from fouling) the Lehigh product isn’t a statistical slouch on D. 

But his real problem came in the postseason. This year, his excellent marks against both the spot-up and pick-and-roll play type took a huge nosedive as the playoffs began. Teams ran McCollum around screens, and he wound up guarding spot-up shooters more often than any other action. Where before McCollum ranked in the 77th percentile vs. spot-ups in the regular season, in the 2019 NBA playoffs the Blazers star dipped to the 49th percentile.

Even worse was how he performed in the pick-and-roll, which accounted for 24% of the plays McCollum defended. Opponents in the postseason abused McCollum, and he finished the postseason ranked in the bottom fifth of defenders against the PNR with regard to points per possession.

Accounting for this is straightforward. First, The competition in the playoffs is by its very nature more difficult. Portland sees the best teams night in and night out in the postseason, and so McCollum ultimate ability laid bare. His regular season numbers had the benefit of him producing excellent nights against the entire NBA, which included lower quality opponents.

Second, the rotations McCollum faced in the postseason shortened. Teams go from nine or 10-man benches to seven or eight-man rotations. That meant that McCollum not only couldn't get away from higher-quality opponents, but he had to face them more often over the course of the game. It also meant that there was less of a chance McCollum would face 20 or 30 percent of his minutes each night against a team's backup shooting guard. That’s doubly true given Terry Stotts shortened his rotation as well, and both McCollum and Lillard were more handcuffed to each other than ever. 

Many times in the postseason, it was starters vs. starters, and McCollum suffered because of it.

Now McCollum appears to be in the same situation Lillard found himself up until this year. Portland's second-biggest star will face harsher criticism now that Lillard appears to be moving in the right direction. 

But that still doesn't answer our original question: Do the Blazers need McCollum to be better defensively? 

This depends on what the roster looks like at the start of the regular season next year. Olshey is looking to upgrade the wing both on defense and in terms of shooting. Fans may think that it’s the big men who back up the guards in the NBA, but in reality, wings help each other out rotationally with digs and stunts. A fresh new crop of defensive-minded swingmen could help McCollum out, particularly in the 2020 playoffs.

Still, the problem with Portland is still The Problem With Portland. McCollum is a smart guy, and one who fought to adapt to the new offensive rotation Stotts put upon him this year. He’s now a certified star. McCollum has the wherewithal to get better on defense in the postseason — he’s an athlete, he’s quick, and he’s smart. He can spend time with coaches and learn the same little tricks that Lillard has implemented. But will he?

There are no dire circumstances that require McCollum to be Tony Allen by October. But much like with Lillard, if the Blazers were suddenly able to add a defensive presence at guard without making a roster addition, it would make the idea of Portland returning to the Western Conference Finals all that more real.

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

The Portland Trail Blazers were not a good fastbreak team last year. They ranked just 18th in pace, getting out in transition 11 percent of the time and scoring 1.08 points per possession. That low scoring number ranked them in the bottom half of the league.

Their offense in total was of course very good. The Blazers had the third-best offensive rating in the league last season, and the eighth-best points per possession.

Like most teams, Portland's critical statistics — shooting percentages, assist percentages — went up in transition compared to its regular offense. But most importantly, players like Moe Harkless and Jake Layman thrived appeared to thrive beyond their regular production when they were on the break.

That begged the question of whether the way to utilize all of Portland’s assets was to push the pace.

In this week's video, we take a look at how guys like Layman, Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Meyers Leonard were excellent transition players for the Blazers this year. We also compare how Evan Turner, Seth Curry — and even Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — may have had an effect on Terry Stotts' decision not to push the pace.

Watch the full video breakdown on Portland's transition game by clicking the video above.

What does Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard need to add to his game this offseason?

What does Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard need to add to his game this offseason?

Damian Lillard had yet another excellent season for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2018-19. Portland’s star guard and franchise player made small improvements here and there; a four percent increase in field goal shooting; half an assist per 100 possessions; 40 additional defensive rebounds.

It was obvious early in the season that Lillard had added to his toolbox as well. Always having to battle his height and arm length, Lillard was craftier around the basket and inside 12 feet. He was more adept at using the rim to protect his shot, with opposing big men having to readjust midair to where are Lillard placed his shots around the rim.

He did all this graciously, and with having to deal with a new set up with backcourt running mate CJ McCollum. Terry Stotts decided to move McCollum in tandem with Lillard this season, with each having to adjust to a system in which sharing the ball was tantamount.

Even with significant lineup changes and some slight declines in offensive statistics, nobody who watched the Trail Blazers this season could argue that Lillard had less of an impact than he had in seasons past. In fact, this year was perhaps his best, one in which his inclusion into the MVP race was not perfunctory, but wholly deserved.

But how good can Lillard be, and what should we expect from him next season?

For that, we have to look on the other side of the ball. In the playoffs it appeared that Lillard was flipping some kind of switch he had been waiting to unveil all year. Lillard was a defensive stalwart, poking away steals and presenting a complete hassle for guys like Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray.

The numbers support Lillard's rise in the playoffs. During the regular season, he was an average defender. Against the pick-and-roll — the bellwether of play types for a point guard — he ranked in the 44th percentile. In the playoffs that jumped to the 69th percentile.

Lillard posted a similar jump against spot-up shooters, which accounted for 20 percent of the plays he defended in the regular season. He was a below-average player until the bracket of 16, ranking in the 29th percentile of players at his position. In the playoffs, Lillard defended the spot-up 28.6 percent of the time and landed in the 81st percentile. 

Most notably, Lillard's steal percentage was superb. He ranked in the bottom third of the league for point guards in that regard in the regular season. In the playoffs Lillard was in the top fifth, and his performances left us thinking, “Is this the new Dame?”

On the whole, it's difficult to pick out parts of Lillard's game that are an issue. The largest qualm we have about Lillard at this juncture is his inability to beat the trap in the postseason. That's a function of his size and arm length, but also of the rotational ability and 3-point shooting of the team surrounding him. Neil Olshey has worked on fixing that this summer, with significant shake-ups to the roster already here come early July.

What Blazers fans have wanted from Lillard over the past several years is an increase in defensive impact. But this storyline became old after time, and it felt as though he may never turn the corner on that end of the floor, so we stopped talking about it.

These playoffs changed our opinion about whether Lillard can be a meaningful defensive player at his position. His performance was no fluke, and watching back film of his matchups against some of the best guards in the NBA — two former MVPs, even — and he just appears… quicker. Not quicker in a physical sense, but quicker in an anticipatory sense.

Where Lillard can get better is pretty simple. The Blazers could be a much more interesting team if he is able to put the clamps on more point guards, disrupting opposing offenses on a nightly basis in the regular season in 2019-20. These playoffs proved that Lillard has the wherewithal and the physical talent to be able to make that happen. Whether he can produce that is another question, and that's always an issue during an 82-game season.

It's not as glamorous as watching Lillard shooting 40-footers in some Los Angeles gym in offseason, or seeing him dunk over incoming rookies in a summer pick up game. But these Blazers need two things: shooting and defense. If they can add a more dynamic defender in Lillard without actually making an acquisition, it makes returning to the Western Conference Finals next season all that much more possible. 

Favorite moments of 2018-19: How Nik Stauskas spoiled LeBron James' first game with the Lakers

Favorite moments of 2018-19: How Nik Stauskas spoiled LeBron James' first game with the Lakers

Nik Stauskas was traded in February for Rodney Hood, who then became a necessary and integral part of the Western Conference Finals playoff push for the Portland Trail Blazers. But early in the season, Stauskas looked like a valuable shooter for a team that desperately needed 3-point accuracy.

In fact, in the very first game of the year the former No. 8 overall pick scored a whopping 24 points in just 27 minutes of play, going 5-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Stauskas was particularly abusive of Josh Hart, who he faced in 27% of his possessions. Portland's backup gunner scored 18 points against Hart, shooting 100% from the field against the former Lakers guard. 

Eventually L.A. caught on to Stauskas' hot hand, and started to pay more attention to him as he ran, JJ Redick style, through screens in Portland's halfcourt offense. Stauskas identified this early, and made it a point to use his gravity and passing ability to share the ball. 

When the Lakers jumped on Stauskas early, it allowed guys like Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and CJ McCollum to benefit.

Check out the second video in our mini-series produced this summer where we wind back the clock and dissect some of the best moments of the magical 2018-19 Blazers season. 

Watch the full video breakdown to see why Portland fans were so excited about Sauce Castillo in Game 1, and how he stole LeBron's thunder.

What should we expect from Trail Blazers forward Zach Collins on defense next year?

What should we expect from Trail Blazers forward Zach Collins on defense next year?

Zach Collins had a strong start defensively last year, but he tapered off a little bit as the season went on. Well, at least it appeared he did. What really happened was that Collins stopped blocking so many shots but his foul rate stayed high, and it made him look like he wasn't a very good defender.

But Collins raised his block percentage year-over-year, and he actually made slight moves in the right direction in terms of his fouling for his position. He was even a pretty good defender in the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy. 

Collins was an important help-side defender for the Blazers last season, and his propensity to block shots and contest players with vertically at the rim was not only necessary, but impressive for a player of his age and experience. 

His biggest sin was leaving his feet too soon. Collins went block hunting a bit this season, and it would often leave his backside exposed. The Gonzaga product also had a tendency to give 3-point shooters too much space when he was forced to guard small-ball lineups.

Collins was really important in these last playoffs, and the type of things he has to work on are simply what every NBA big man needs to improve in their first four years in league

Watch the full video breakdown above to see where Collins needs to improve, and to find out what to expect from him next year.

Does Terry Stotts' Flow offense need upgrading?

Does Terry Stotts' Flow offense need upgrading?

The Portland Trail Blazers were once again one of the best offensive teams in the NBA in 2018-19. They improved a lot of their critical rankings in comparison to last year: most importantly, Portland's points per possession went up relative to the rest of the NBA. Combined with stellar years from Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers finished with a top three offensive rating.

But it didn't feel like the Blazers were an unstoppable offensive juggernaut in the postseason, and that's been one of the issues with Terry Stotts’ tenure here in Portland.

The Blazers were ninth out of 16 teams in the postseason in terms of points per possession, and they went from having a top quintile halfcourt offense to being smack dab in the middle.

So can some extra juice be added to Portland's offense? And if so, why hasn't the coaching staff done so already, when they know postseason defenses will zero in on their tried-and-true methods?

It's possible that Stotts doesn't want to give up his offensive rebounding, and that any additional movement might clog up what goes right for Lillard and McCollum during the regular season. Portland's offense is very good, and its main Achilles heel is that they don't have enough shooters to release defenders from trapping star guards. That's first and foremost, but I would expect to see even more additions to this offensive system next year.

Watch the full video breakdown above to see where things go wrong for the Blazers, and to see some suggestions on little wrinkles that could improve their off-ball movement.

In Meyers Leonard, Blazers fans were made to reflect on themselves outside of basketball

In Meyers Leonard, Blazers fans were made to reflect on themselves outside of basketball

Truth be told, I’ve had some iteration of this column written for some time. 

Its details have changed, naturally, as Meyers Leonard’s story has taken shape: first as an unremarkable rookie, then as a sweet-shooting stretch five. Eventually, Leonard became a vessel for catching of all Rip City’s vitriol, most of it undeserved. It’s led us to the 2018-19 version of Leonard — his best iteration yet — and a sort of unsteady rewriting of how harshly he was viewed by much of the Portland Trail Blazers fanbase. It’s difficult to explain what to make of that.

Leonard is with the Miami Heat now, his expiring contract a cog in the machine that wheeled Jimmy Butler in from the Philadelphia 76ers to South Beach. His legacy with the Heat, and any team that comes after, will never be held in as much contempt as it was here in Oregon. Leonard is 27 now, and as close to his final form as an NBA player as ever. For that reason, he’ll never be as unabashedly loved as he was here, either.

His final season with the Blazers was, for many, a chance to reconcile with the former No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Leonard was a source of disappointment for much of his time in Blazer Land, but this year his offensive prowess allowed Portland fans to find purchase in their hearts for a man they’d cast out so long ago. It helped that the team’s Western Conference Finals run put Leonard back into fan’s good graces. He deserved it, too.


Leonard ranked in the 99th percentile for spot-up shooters this past season, with his work as a cutter and pick-and-roll man equally as impressive, according to Synergy. Leonard had something more to give, his decisions quicker on each side of the ball. His advanced statistics in the playoffs were some of the best for a team whose front line needed his floor-spacing talents. Finally, the way in which the Blazers needed Meyers Leonard was the way in which Meyers Leonard could provide for the Blazers.

In the playoffs, Leonard did what he needed to do: rotate the ball, absorb fouls, contest at the rim, and shoot from deep. In his final game of the year — the final game he’d ever play for Portland — Leonard scored 30 points, going 5-of-8 from 3-point range while grabbing 12 rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes against the Golden State Warriors. It was Leonard putting all his skills into action at once, and the hot-and-cold love affair for Meyers was back on the stove.

The only problem was that it wasn’t clear if Blazers fans deserved to be let back into Leonard’s heart. 

...

In Portland, fans are true to their extremes. The word fanatic means something on the banks of the Willamette. It’s what happens when an indoor city like Portland is mixed with an NBA team as the only game in town: “Blazermania” was the original iteration of this, and the modern version takes the form of Favorite Son and Scapegoat. 

Each season, Portland fans pick one player to love and one to rail against, both unconditionally. In the past decade alone, Favorite Sons have been: Jake Layman, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, Luke Babbitt, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Shabazz Napier, Tim Frazier, Noah Vonleh, and Pat Connaughton. Scapegoats included but were not limited to Leonard, Vonleh, Crabbe, Joel Freeland, Mo Williams, JJ Hickson, and Evan Turner.

Players have flipped between this informal designation, usually from year-to-year but sometimes during the course of a season. Leonard is the lone player of this ilk that has cumulatively made each list more than any other. It’s this relationship that, since his rookie season in 2012-13, has been difficult to explain to those who have not experienced Leonard’s career.

His first season in Portland, Leonard was plunked at the center position out of necessity. He was the Blazers’ sixth man, playing the most minutes outside of any starter thanks to JJ Hickson’s inability to do anything other than rebound and score for himself. Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts wanted to see what they had in the athletic, high-flying Leonard. They soon found out what was always likely: he was a project.


Meanwhile, Damian Lillard took off like a rocket. The 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year was an immediate star, the franchise cornerstone that was destined to take the reigns from Aldridge sooner rather than later. Lillard’s rise made Leonard — taken just five spots later in that draft — look like a weaker choice by comparison. Aldridge was a star, Lillard was too. Portlanders didn’t want to wait for the Illinois product to develop, a process for that for NBA big men usually takes through their first contract to complete. Thus was born the impatience for Leonard, and pressure started to mount.

The arrival of Robin Lopez in the summer of 2013 and the unexpected rise of Freeland from the dregs of frontcourt development purgatory pushed Leonard to the bench. His minutes were cut in half his sophomore year, and Leonard scored fewer than 100 points. The saber-rattling about trading Leonard began among fans, and drafts were written, ready to be inked over later, labeling him a bust.

Rip City searched for grace after Leonard’s second season in 2013-14, but found nothing of the sort despite his minutes and impact waning. He stormed back offensively, and his 40/50/90 season in 2014-15 should have shifted for the masses who Leonard was, and where he was useful. But it didn’t. 

Because Leonard crested the 7-footer mark (with shoes only: his actual height is a quarter inch short of that vaunted threshold), he was held to a different standard. The refrain on the streets and blog posts of Portland was If he’s that tall he must block shots and score with his back to the basket. This was a holdover from a different era, the same kind of conventional thinking that had led to the drafting of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant five years earlier. At least partly, this wasn’t completely laughable.

The year before Leonard was drafted, NBA teams combined to attempt 36,395 shots from beyond the 3-point line. By the time Leonard notched his best shooting season ever — just three years later — that number had gone up by more than 50 percent. Now, as Leonard makes his way to Florida, it’s more than doubled.

A change in how the NBA valued 3-pointers coincided with how Leonard shot the ball. We saw him fire from deep during Las Vegas Summer League a couple of years into his tenure. Between his second and third season, Leonard went from shooting single-digit threes to triple-digits.

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“Stop.. Hammer Time” 🔨⏰

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Running alongside this, outpacing Portland’s young big man, was how social media was used in sports. We adopted Facebook and Twitter as a means to communicate about our favorite leagues. Early NBA Twitter was the Wild West, with anyone and everyone able to suddenly speak directly — and loudly — to their favorite stars instantaneously.

If you wanted to explain to outsiders the complexity of emotion surrounding seven years of Meyers Leonard in Portland, this would be it: height, 3-point shooting, and Twitter.

In this regard, Leonard was drafted not only too early for his own age, but for the era in which he began his career. GMs began reaching for shooting a few seasons after Leonard was drafted. Had he been born in 1995 instead of 1992, he might be seen as another P.J. Hairston, Juancho Hernangomez, Sam Dekker, Nik Stauskas, or Doug McDermott. As the 3-point revolution took over the NBA, it became more acceptable to swing-and-miss on shooting. But that wasn’t the case in 2012, and as a group fans have struggled to understand who he is, and what to expect of him.

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When draft mate Lillard continued to excel, the rancor surrounding Leonard grew to a cacophony. Each year, the expectations for Leonard appeared to turn more ludicrous, with the fanbase uninterested in taking into account context and prior performance as a projection of what was to come. No matter what, Portland couldn’t get it out of their heads. Block shots! Post up! Stop shooting! they clamored as one of the league’s best long-range gunners went underutilized in the Blazers offense. It was baffling.

Despite some hope after Leonard’s 2014-15 campaign, things wavered. That summer the team fired big man coach Kim Hughes, a Meyers confidant, who let it slip that LaMarcus Aldridge was leaving the team in free agency. Leonard’s defensive development stagnated the next year, and his season ended with a shoulder injury in late 2016.

An injury-confined season followed in 2016-17. His minutes remained steady but the bungee effect of Leonard’s inability to train after surgery delayed his progress. Surprisingly, it wasn’t his left shoulder that was holding him back.

  
In February of 2017, Leonard told me in an interview that his lower body wasn’t ready to perform. Because he couldn’t hold any weights or even run following surgery in spring of 2016, Leonard came into the next season physically unprepared to battle at the center position. That led to an acute, nagging discrepancy in capacity as he struggled to catch up against high-caliber big men.

“All of a sudden my back was starting to really bug me, and that was because I just hadn't taken any type of load whatsoever,” Leonard said in a February 2017 edition of the Locked on Blazers podcast. “It probably took me until mid-January to even really feel like I had my legs back under me.”

The next season an ankle sprain kept Leonard out here and there, and he fell out of Stotts’ rotation as Zach Collins came on strong. He performed in fits and starts, playing double-digit minutes three times in 2018. When last summer came, and with the team declining to re-sign Ed Davis, it appeared to be Leonard’s time to shine yet again. 

And we know how that turned out.

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There’s been an outpouring of support in the wake of Leonard’s trade to Miami. Twitter, perhaps for the first time ever, has been positive toward Leonard, wishing him well on his way. This endearment, while on the surface healing, has acted as a mirror reflecting back on two sides the analogous journey taken by Leonard and Blazers fans over these past seven years.

To the left is the journey from boy to man. It’s the timeline of Leonard going through the conventional maturation process of a Millennial in America while at the same time bearing the weight of an unnatural public life which capital itself could not ever be expected to wholly assuage. It’s every slight, every Bieber-ism, every joke about his wife’s shooting. It’s also every friend made, every smile from summer camp kids, and every trip to one of Oregon's greatest landmarks that colored Leonard's life.

On the right of this mirror is the growth of each fan, their own follies individually considered as they’ve matured in their own lifetimes: the mind’s camera flashing back, indiscriminately, to how they might have handled events differently over time by dint of experience, not just with Leonard but with anyone. 


There comes stages in life where it feels as though Yes, finally I am fully formed! My opinions and actions are resolute! only to look back and understand, undoubtedly, that was not the case. Given how fans feel today, with Leonard gone and his growth as a player and as a person considered, would each side have made the same decisions?

Portland fans received several chances to make right by Meyers Leonard. It’s felt as though his dearth of production, contrasted to expectations, were projected as a totem of fans’ own collective irritation with their lives; of infelicity due to failure, happenstance, or qualms that couldn’t be publicized save for as invective toward a 7-foot-1 center from a tiny hamlet in corn country.

That part might remain inexplicable. Or perhaps, this transference is exactly the explanation. From here, the only thing to do — as it is with any complex, adult relationship that didn’t end up quite the way either party had hoped — is to understand that moving forward is the only option, and to hope that time does indeed heal the wound.

For Leonard, he has more to learn and more to show. Blazers fans will give him a standing ovation when he returns to Moda Center next season. In the meantime, Leonard’s ethic and ethos, steeled by his time in this city, is exemplified by his final response about his shoulder injury in 2017, the very thing that marked the beginning of the end of his tenure in Portland.

“I’m working, I’m doing my best,” said Leonard. “I can say that — I know that — and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”