Five Things the Trail Blazers Want for Christmas
If you are a Portland Trail Blazers fan you have probably been waiting for this day for some time. Even though it's Christmas, and there are presents under the tree and eggnog to drink, the real show is against the Utah Jazz. The Blazers finally got themselves a Christmas Day game, highlighting Oregon’s favorite basketball team to the rest of the country on a national holiday.
The Blazers themselves are going to be in the holiday spirit, and the team will be wanting to have something more than just presents to unwrap and a W in the win-loss column. The old adage in the NBA is that the season doesn't really start until Christmas, and Portland has had quite a few ups and downs in the months prior.
Things are really going to take shape come the new year, and the team could use a few key things in their stocking as they try to make a run for the playoffs in 2019. As such, it's time to run down a list of what the Blazers and their fans want for Christmas.
Portland's greatest strength to start the season has often looked like its greatest weakness over the past few weeks. The variance of the bench, on both sides of the ball, has been enough to drive Blazers fans crazy.
Some nights it seems like Portland backups are completely in sync, passing the ball and rotating effectively on defense. Other nights it looks like they don't belong on an NBA floor. Nobody is safe from criticism, and everyone from Evan Turner to Nik Stauskas has struggled.
The way this team is constructed they need to have better play from their bench if they want to survive a Western Conference where even the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings are pounding opponents into dust.
This is both a long-term and a short-term goal for Portland. Blazers probably need to look at making a trade to get a real wing in the summer of 2019. In the meantime, they need to figure out if Moe Harkless can perform consistently or if Jake Layman needs to be given another look.
There's also the question of what the wing rotation should be. Layman played well during his time with the starters, but has seen little work when Harkless is healthy. In a perfect world, with everyone playing with a giving, holiday spirit, Harkless would become a supersub off the bench, much like Evan Turner. There’s doubt that Harkless and his touchy ego would be open to this move, but it could seriously help Portland. I wonder if Terry Stotts might suggest this at some point?
A real rotation
Portland always seems to be cobbling together lineups with players who might not see minutes at all under different circumstances, or who might be gone next season. Seth Curry, Brian Roberts, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, et al.
The truth is that teams who are pushing for the next level — teams who want to be second round (and beyond) playoff teams don’t have these types of guys playing heavy minutes for them. Some of the Blazers’ rotations over the years have looked like the kind of ramshackle rosters that have been slapped around LeBron James over the years. Portland doesn’t have LeBron James.
Neil Olshey’s roster construction has been admirable and fiscally sound at times, and during others it’s been poor. Honesly? I think Blazers fans have had enough Pat Connaughtons. As soon as you stop seeing guys like that playing 1,200+ minutes for Portland you’ll know they’re on the right track.
Flexibility by Terry Stotts
Terry Stotts is one of the best coaches the Blazers have ever had, and he's not only a master strategist but a smart leader who has been able to reform and adjust in the face of circumstance, largely related to his rosters.
But Stotts can also be a bit more inflexible than I’d like. His attachment to certain veterans, his divergence from playing some young players, and his short rotation immediately come to mind. I think this season has been an excellent test of what Stotts will do to win vs. how far out of his comfort zone he’s willing to go. I hope that continues this season and beyond as the Blazers try to beat the odds and be a perennial second round playoff team.
This is the big one. The Nintendo 64 of all Blazers Christmas gifts, if you will. This Portland team is frustrating to watch this season largely because of their unpredictability. One night the starters play great, but the bench is flat. Another the starters look listless and the bench is raining 3-pointers. They allow a thousand threes, then allow zero. They win confidently against the Grizzlies, then lose by 30 to the Jazz.
This team is up and down in a way that could perhaps be at least partially blamed on the league’s high scoring rate to begin the season. But now it’s Christmas Day, and Tuesday night against Utah is Game 34. This kind of wildness needs to be curbed if the team wants Portland fans to feel optimistic about their chances in the playoffs this year. If they don’t it’ll be like giving us all a big lump of coal.