Stay cool, Trail Blazer fans.
You aren’t going to be hearing a lot of people picking your team to do well in the upcoming season. The “experts” will be downplaying the changes made this summer and talking negatively about a group that went to the conference finals last season and will return only two starters from that team.
They will question the Hassan Whiteside addition and wonder how a team could move away from both its starting forwards. They’ll wonder who the backup point guard will be and forget how far your team went without its starting center last year. Most of them will even forget how well the playoffs went.
All of that will happen. But you should be used to it by now. You hear it every year.
Just stay cool and don’t start crying about it. Don’t get mad. You realize it doesn't matter, right?
Those people don’t know a whole lot about your team.
They don’t know that Anfernee Simons has a great chance to become an outstanding NBA player and that Zach Collins is very likely going to be a very good two-way player – a force at both ends of the floor. They don’t know how good Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood and Mario Herzonja are going to shoot from the three-point line in the Portland system.
And most of all, they don’t understand the Trail Blazer culture and how Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum run a tight locker room and create a family atmosphere. Oh, the coaching staff has a role in that too, and players normally play better here than they do anywhere else. Development and improvement are expected, not wished for, in Portland. We see it every season.
I think the doubters will see a different Hassan Whiteside, too. He will be playing for his next contract, will be getting his touches and his playing time. Damian Lillard will make him look better on offense than he’s ever looked and I’d almost guaranteed that. Just wait. It’s what happens here. Whiteside is going to have more fun playing basketball here than he's had anywhere else.
Jusuf Nurkic came to Portland with a lot of the same raps Whiteside brings and that turned around fast.
The Blazers will play hard and they will play better than last season’s team. Whiteside will bring a defensive improvement and with Collins on the floor at the same time, Portland will play better defense than it has in years. Terry Stotts will find outside shooting among that corps of small forwards. Simons and Gary Trent Jr. will find ways to make the bench potent and this team will win.
And the starting guards, well, you know what they can do. And now, with better shooting up front, they should be more free to do their thing.
At least that's the way it's all being mapped out.
There are still questions about the bench, even with the welcome addition of Anthony Tolliver. The bench is probably going to have to play a lot of small ball because, overall, this isn't a big team. Shotmakers will be necessary.
And a lot is riding on the youngsters. Simons, Trent and Collins need to produce. They will probably be heavily counted-on rotation players.
This has a chance to be a very, very good team. A chance. And certainly there’s no need to worry about predictions, forecasts or preseason criticism.
Just wait. Just stay cool. It should be a extremely interesting season. It's a grand experiment with the team's culture and development and nobody knows what the ceiling is.
Most of all, it should be a lot of fun.