There’s no doubt that without starting small forward Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, that’s going to create some problems for the Trail Blazers as they head to Orlando for their eight regular-season games in the restart of the 2019-20 season.
We are now less than a month away from the season resuming. Wednesday, Damian Lillard and Coach Terry Stotts shared their thoughts on Ariza opting out of returning to play to instead commit to a one-month visitation window with his 12-year-old son.
“I have a great respect for the decision that he made,” Stotts said. “It wasn’t an easy one for him, but I’ve told him this -- the decision he made to be with his child, I thought was very commendable and totally respected that.”
But what about that gaping hole now at the three?
Lillard was straightforward when talking about losing Ariza.
The Trail Blazers All-Star point guard knows it won’t be easy to replace him.
It’s a big loss. I don’t think there’s any way around it. It’s not a situation where you just say, you know, ‘Somebody has to jump in and step up’ even though that’s the truth. It’s just a loss for us but I respect his opinion. If I was in his position I would have done the same thing.
I think this season we dealt with a lot of adversity. So I think we got to look at that as it’s a blow to our team, but we’re also getting [Jusuf Nurkic] and Zach [Collins] back, and that’s going to be a big help for us. Hopefully, we’re able to move forward and still get done what we want to get done. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard
The Trail Blazers traded for Ariza on January 21 from the Sacramento Kings for Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second-round draft picks. He was instilled as the team's starting small forward. Wenyan Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan were also involved in the deal.
In 21 games played with the Trail Blazers this season, Ariza averaged 11.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.
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With Zach Collins now “100 percent cleared to play,” according to Stotts, having a healthy Collins back from shoulder surgery is definitely one big positive that came out of delaying the season.
Coach Stotts mentioned that he is exploring a big lineup of Carmelo Anthony at small forward and Collins at the four.
Plus, we can't forget about the other options for the Blazers at the three spot:
- Gary Trent Jr.
- Nassir Little
- Mario Hezonja
“It’ll be by committee,” Stotts explained. “The obvious thing is Carmelo will play some three. Gary Trent will play some three. Nas and Mario will have to make the most of their opportunities when they’re out there.”
Stotts is still optimistic that by adding a healthy Nurk and Collins, a void will be filled at the defensive end.
Not having Trevor, obviously, it’s gonna fill a hole. He’s our best perimeter defender. We’re going to have to make due… We’re going to lose his defense and his three-point shooting, but we gain Zach and Nurk, so hopefully we’ll be better defensively even though we lose Trevor. -- Blazers coach Terry Stotts
Lillard; however, is still uncertain how things will shake out at the small forward spot.
“I’m not sure," Lillard said. "I mean, Nas has gotten a lot of experience this season. GT has gotten a lot of experience this season. But, I could see Melo probably being the three. I could see Melo playing the three to start games. You know, I could see us having a pretty big lineup out there.”
But with three weeks of training camp after a more than three-month layoff, the Blazers are eager to get the resumption of play underway.
The Trail Blazers currently sit in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Sacramento and New Orleans are also 3.5 games behind Memphis.
Stotts said the team will have to “hold serve” once the short slate of games tip-off.
But, it’s apparent the Trail Blazers are all-in for the return to play in Orlando.
The fact that we are approaching it like every game is a playoff game, the rotation will be a little bit shorter. -- Terry Stotts
The goal from Stotts and Lillard is understood:
The Blazers are determined to fight for their playoff lives once they get to Orlando.
It’s basically an 8-game season and we’re starting behind. -- Damian Lillard
Lillard added he “feels good” about the Blazers chances to make the postseason.
Teams will travel to Orlando from July 7-9. Portland will tip-off its first of eight ‘regular-season’ games on July 31 against the Memphis Grizzlies.