Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

It was a day full of optimism at the Trail Blazers’ practice facility Wednesday.

Sure, new players Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel were on hand for their first practice with their team.

But that was not the headline news.

Everywhere you looked, there were positive signs in regard to injured players.

There was Zach Collins, going through on-court drills with a basketball -- shooting short jumpers and even left-handed layups -- as he recovers from a torn labrum. No full workout with the team yet, but on the court and even shooting with his (injured) left arm.

At the other end of the court, there was CJ McCollum working out with coaches -- running full speed as he shot and went through defensive drills -- as he recovers from a sprained ankle.

But most of all, there was news -- big news -- of Jusuf Nurkic going through a contact practice, albeit mostly halfcourt, as he recovers from his broken left leg.

Nobody was willing to say how soon Nurkic could be back playing in games, but just the news of him playing full speed in practice is reason for optimism.

He is a difference maker.

Coach Terry Stotts didn’t get specific about how Nurkic did on the floor but teammates spoke highly of how he played. Stotts did point out that this section of the schedule has been pinpointed for a while as a good spot for his return, because the team has two days off between three different home games.

And maybe not coincidentally, it’s also prior to the NBA trade deadline of noon, Pacific time, Feb. 6. So if the Trail Blazers were inclined to deal Hassan Whiteside and his expiring contract, theoretically Nurkic would be ready to play or very close to ready.

Don’t take this wrong. McCollum is the only one of the three injured players whose return to active duty is believed to be imminent.

But with serious injuries the likes of the ones Nurkic and Collins suffered, this sort of progress is what fans have been waiting to hear about.

Media, too. Win or lose, this team is a lot more fun to watch with those players on the floor.