With Trevor Ariza opting out of the resumption of the NBA regular season in Orlando, where does that leave the Trail Blazers?
Well, still better off than they were when the season went on hiatus.
They have lost Ariza, who had been their starting small forward, but they will be adding Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, which still promises to make them a better team, overall, than the group in Portland uniforms when the season went on its extended break.
And don’t get too hung up on positions. Yes, Ariza is a small forward and that’s not a spot with a lot of depth. But keep in mind, positions don’t matter so much these days in the NBA with so many teams going with small or unconventional lineups. Coach Terry Stotts will have the option of using his five best players, regardless of perceived position, very often.
And Collins provides depth at several positions because of his defensive versatility.
One of the team’s two-way players, Jaylen Hoard, is the likely replacement for Ariza, not as the starter but if needed in the rotation. He is comfortable in the Trail Blazer system and with his teammates.
I don’t expect Portland to sign someone to replace Ariza, because there isn’t much out there on the free-agent market now and why add another salary when the new player is not likely to play much, if not at all?
The real question, though, is whether Ariza is the only Trail Blazer who will opt out? Players have until Tuesday to exercise their option not to participate in the resumption of play in Orlando. If another chooses to stay home, Portland may then decide to make a move.
Who might join Ariza on the No-Go list?
My guess -- just a guess -- would be Carmelo Anthony and/or Hassan Whiteside. Melo might decide that at his age he would not have anything to prove in Orlando and why risk injury? He may already have options for next season that he wouldn’t want to damage with an injury,
Whiteside knows that Nurkic is going to be on the roster and could reasonably assume that as a pending free agent, the numbers he put up this season will help him get a new contract without the added pressure of what’s to come for the team in Florida.
But in reality, I wouldn’t be surprised if those players decide to stick with the team and ride this season out. Melo is a competitor and a shot at the playoffs would probably be fun for him. I believe he likes and respects his teammates and the organization and would have trouble leaving them behind.
Whiteside has had a much better season than what was expected of him and might want to stick around and see what happens. And the challenge would be to see if can carve out playing time alongside Nurkic.
Whatever happens, the Trail Blazers, with the return of Collins and Nurkic, will be a fun watch when the season resumes. And the experience of the core group having played together for some time could be a big thing.
It's still so difficult to figure out what's ahead -- not only with the roster, but with the league's tentative plan for resumption in Orlando.