Injuries -- they are part of the game.
In Portland, Trail Blazers fans know that all too well.
The expectations were high for the 2019-20 season in Rip City.
The Trail Blazers were set to lean on their star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum while also bringing in a major shot blocker in Hassan Whiteside to anchor the team down low until Jusuf Nurkic was ready to return.
While, it was also assumed that Anfernee Simons would lead the charge offensively off the bench.
And, both Zach Collins and Rodney Hood were bumped up from role players to starters.
Then with what seemed like in the snap-of-a-finger, both Collins and Hood were out with injuries.
Now we are wondering if the 2019-20 season will be canceled.
There’s still a chance play could resume this season once the COVID-19 pandemic gets under control around the country.
But, what about next season?
What could the 2020-21 NBA season look like for the Portland Trail Blazers?
Nurkic knows the answer…
I do believe one thing: If [we’re] healthy, we can be a problem. – Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic told NBCSNW's Dwight Jaynes
And it’s not just about the talent on the court, because Nurkic is playing alongside Lillard for goodness sake, but it’s also about this team believing it can achieve more than people expect.
“I think last year when was believing we can win [it] all and that’s why the team went so long… [to] the Western Conference Finals,” Nurkic said.
With Portland playing in the WCF for the first time in 19 years during the 2018-19 season, and then going through so much adversity this past season while still have a fighting chance to land the eighth and final spot in the West, this team really can’t be counted out until they are mathematical out.
Does this team expect to make the playoffs this year if given the opportunity?
“I think a 100 percent, I don’t see anybody that would disagree with that,” Nurkic on if the Trail Blazers are a playoff team if the season resumes. “We’ve never been healthy… Start of the season, we’ve never been complete and it’s hard to judge, but I think most of the teams if they’re missing like three or four players from the starting lineup they would have a really hard time, but we were still finding away.”
There’s still a question mark on whether or not Whiteside will be back next season, but if he is, he believes he and Nurk could be a real force.
Of course, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts would have to figure out the balancing act of minutes played between the two.
But, could the Blazers go with the Twin Towers and play both centers together?
Whiteside thinks so.
I think it’ll be good. Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out. -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic
This season with the Blazers, Whiteside was averaging 16.3 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks in 61 games played. He is also shooting an efficient 61.8 percent from the field.
Prior to the injury, Nurk averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds last season, both of which were career-highs.
Now throw in Collins, who didn’t get a chance to show his progress from year two to year three since he didn’t even play in three complete games before suffering the left shoulder injury, and teams better look out.
This season the Blazers were hurting on the defensive end to say the least. Having Collins back in the fold with his toughness, sneaky athleticism for a 7-footer and the mentality of never backing down, is just what the doctor ordered for Portland.
Collins has said he will be healthy enough to play if the NBA resumes this summer.
So, before we start looking ahead to next season (but, how can you not?), let’s keep in mind this year isn’t over until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says it is, or there is a Champion crowned.
For now, we should all have similar mindsets to the Bosnian Beast:
“I just don’t want to think about next season yet,” Nurk said with a smile.
Yes, this season could still very well play out and it would be played out with a healthy Nurk and Collins.
That’s another positive to keep in mind.