The 2019-2020 season for the Trail Blazers has been rough. It started with championship aspirations and quickly plummeted to disaster. Zach Collins was lost to a dislocated shoulder, Rodney Hood was lost to an Achilles rupture, and Jusuf Nurkic still has yet to return from a fractured leg he suffered late last season. Minor injuries, such at the back spasm plague, sidelined Damian Lillard, Nassir Little, and Mario Hezonja at various points of the season, while CJ McCollum missed Sunday's game against Miami with an upper respiratory illness. Now, it seems in its current form that just making the playoffs would be a feat in and of itself. To say the season has been tough is an understatement.
The seas are rough right now. The ship is being battered, but it isn't sinking. Calm waters are ahead and there are many, many reasons to still have hope for this team and I'm going to tell you why. But before I do, let me just say that this not saying that fans can't be upset. Some of the anger from the fan base is irrational, sure, but that's what fandom is. You live and die with your team. You feel the joy of their success, and you feel the pain of their failure. That's ok. But just know that no one hates losing as much as the players in that locker room. They want to win just as bad as you want them to, but circumstances have hindered their ability to.
Now, as I said, there are smooth seas ahead. Here are just a few reasons why fans should still be hyped for the Blazers:
- The Return of Jusuf Nurkic: Nurkic is inching closer and closer to a return to the court, and when he does finally hit the floor the Blazers will be an entirely different team. Nurkic's ability to run the offense as a point-center is something the Hassan Whiteside just can't do. Don't get me wrong, Whiteside has been great for this team, he is just a much different player than Nurkic is. The return of Nurkic can also give Stotts the ability to play both of them on the floor at once, much like he did with Whiteside and Skal Labissiere. Portland could have two elite rebounders on the floor, which would be huge considering their struggles on the glass. So many things change with Nurkic's return, and that return may be closer than we think.
- They are still in the playoff hunt: Despite how bad things have been, the Blazers are just a half-game out of eighth place. If the Blazers can manage to string some wins together they can still make the playoffs. Honestly, what more could you ask for? Tanking makes no sense, as this is not a deep draft class, and making the playoffs despite all the adversity would be phenomenal. They are in this position without Nurkic. As stated above., if he returns everything could change. Not to mention there is still a sliver of hope that Zach Collins makes a return before the season ends. Portland could limp through the season, then have two of their best defensive players and key playmakers back for a playoff run. That sounds like must-watch basketball to me.
- The trade deadline: This deadline is intriguing because it can make or break the future of the Blazers. A lot has been made about Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and even a trade for LaMarcus Aldridge, but those just don't make sense to me. Why? Because they are all power forwards. Why make a move that fills a hole for the rest of this season, but hurts the progress of Zach Collins in the long run? Zach was your starting power forward before his injury, and he is the guy this team wants at that position in the future. To me, this team will be going after two things at the deadline: A starting-caliber small forward and players that can be key bench contributors next season. Rodney Hood will not likely be ready for the start of next season, and last year you saw how integral he can be as a rotational play. If you upgrade at that position, you do it. Portland can't really afford to let Bazemore and Whiteside's contracts expire, so all eyes will be on them between now and the February 6th trade deadline.
- The window hasn't closed: All feels lost at the moment. But if you take a second and step back, the future is bright. Regardless of how this season plays out, the Blazers will start next season with a healthy roster, with the possible exception of Hood. Depending on how they do at the deadline and in the offseason, they could once again be primed for a big season and playoff run. Remember, that is how this season was supposed to be. This is a much different team if Collins, Hood, Labissiere, and Pau Gasol are healthy and contributing. Without them, you always knew it was going to be rough.
I know I'm more or less stating the obvious here, but sometimes just taking a second to read it and think about more than just another tough road loss helps the healing process. There is still plenty to root for.
Heck, you have the Blazers when some cities don't even have a basketball team at all. That's reason enough to be happy, right?
The Blazers may be losing, but the locker room remains calm. There aren't any detractors. No one is stirring things up to make for an uncomfortable locker room. They could be. But they're not.
Things may get worse before it gets better for the Blazers, but it will get better. Until then just buckle up, hunker down, and do your best not to get seasick as Portland plows through the storm.