Blazers: Roses and Rain will periodically take a look at three things going well for the Portland Trail Blazers and three things that are going poorly or need improvement. Since last week’s article, the Blazers lost to the Cavaliers, beat both the Kings and the Nets, and got blown out by the Nuggets. Their current record sits at 16-25.
Rose #1 and Rain #1: Damian Lillard Undergoes Abdominal Surgery
Lillard made the difficult decision this week to have surgery to fix his abdominal tendinopathy issue. It had plagued him for several years now, but for the ultra-competitive Lillard to elect to do so in the middle of the season means it had to have gotten to the point where it was necessary. Having the surgery ends up on the rose list because it will hopefully result in Lillard playing without pain and resolve the problem moving forward. It also benefits the Blazers from here on out to be as bad as possible which would likely result in better draft lottery odds, so having Lillard out for a while definitely makes falling down the standings to where landing a top-8 pick becomes a realistic possibility. I had to include this on the rain list as well because we will all be deprived of getting to watch Lillard play for maybe the rest of the season and because having a wasted season with Lillard at the age of 31 isn’t ideal, especially if the front office fails to use this opportunity to prepare for next year.
Rose #2: CJ McCollum’s Return
McCollum is now a father! His wife Elise gave birth to the couple’s first child this week. In addition to that, Shams Charania broke news on Friday that McCollum will be available to join the team on their current road trip and play in their upcoming game on Monday against the Orlando Magic. After missing 18 games with a punctured lung, it will be nice to see McCollum be healthy and back on the court.
Rain #2: Too Good to Tank?
Even without Lillard, the Blazers might be just good enough to win too many games for those hoping for a tank job the rest of the season to play out accordingly. This is mainly because of the fantastic play of Anfernee Simons. The Blazers defeated the Nets last Monday without Lillard, McCollum, Norman Powell, and Larry Nance Jr. To win a game over a team with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing and to do so without those 4 starters was quite impressive. If Simons continues to shine he may single-handedly keep the Blazers afloat with his Lillard-esque impression. This can be spun as a positive though because having players like Simons develop the confidence to lead the team without Lillard could alleviate some of the pressure off Lillard’s shoulders when he returns.
Rose #3: Trade Deadline Less Than 4 Weeks Away
February 10th is the NBA’s trade deadline. This team could look drastically different in 4 weeks. Will General Manager Joe Cronin reshape the roster around Lillard? Will the team trade off veterans for younger players and draft picks to increase the likelihood of losing more games the rest of the season? Will they make moves to keep the team near the play-in games in hopes that Lillard will return healthy later in the season? Since Cronin has only been on the job a handful of weeks, it’s hard to get a good feel for what kind of moves he’d make thus making these questions difficult to answer. It will be fascinating to see how Cronin starts to try to fix the roster.
Rain #3: Trades Can be Bittersweet
If it’s the end of an era and several Blazers are traded out over the next few weeks, it will be somewhat sad. Players like McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have been mainstays here in Portland and it’s hard to picture them playing for another team. The bond those two have with Lillard will also make it emotional to split them apart. Obviously trades are part of the business and there are times like this where trades most likely are what’s best for the team, but the players on this team are all really good people and are easy to root for so the human side of trades is tough.