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. The Blazers have been devastated by players missing games and currently find themselves out of the playoff picture with a record of 14-23.
Rose #1: Anfernee Simons
The 4th-year guard is back on the upswing after going through a bit of a shooting slump last month. In December, Simons shot only 33.0% from the field and 33.3% from three. However, the last two games Simons has not only started but been the featured guy on offense and he is stepping up to the occasion. Over those two games Simons is averaging 35.5 points and 7 assists while sporting a field goal percentage of 57.9% and shooting 53.8% on three pointers. While those numbers are certainly not sustainable, Simons is showcasing what he is capable of if given a larger role. The only question is whether or not General Manager Joe Cronin will clear the logjam at guard to allow Simons to have more opportunities long term or if he’d consider dealing Simons ahead of his impending restricted free agency this off season.
Rain #1: Abdominal Tendinopathy
Damian Lillard sat out for 10 days in late November through early December and received a cortisone injection in hopes that the rest and pain relief would allow him to get through the season before deciding what to do about his chronic abdomen issue. After coming back and playing 9 games, Lillard’s injury has flared up again and he is once again missing games. This time seems different though. There’s talk about shutting Lillard down for an extended period or possibly the rest of the season. Lillard is not the type that will ever give up but getting him right in a season that appears to be going nowhere might be the best course of action instead of him trying to fight through the pain all year.
Rose #2: Trade Deadline is in 34 days
According to Jake L Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Blazers will have two of the more coveted trade pieces this season in Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic (more on him later). Since the added play-in spots gives 20 of the 30 teams a shot at the playoffs, there appears to be more buyers than sellers. That could change over the course of the next few weeks, but the Blazers almost have to do something before the deadline. Cronin is in a position to take risks because if he doesn’t make some moves then he probably won’t be the GM after this season. Basically he needs to make a splash. How the Blazers roster looks in 5 weeks will be fascinating to see, hopefully.
Rain #2: Freefall Down the Standings
At one point in this season, the Blazers were 10-8 and feeling pretty good considering their difficult early season schedule. Since then, they’ve only won 4 games out of their last 19 played. The defense is atrocious and the offense hasn’t been clicking either. Over the last 15 games, they have the worst net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) in the entire NBA. Individual improvement with Simons and Nassir Little have been fun to watch, but the team as a whole seems to be regressing rather than improving. That’s not a good sign for both the coaching staff’s ability and the player’s commitment level to the coaching.
Rose #3: Benefits of Tanking
Tanking has a negative connotation to a lot of people, but in this particular instance being as bad as possible for the rest of this season would put the Blazers in a better position moving forward next year than fighting for a playoff berth would. Lillard’s injury combined with a roster that has simply not been good enough this season makes this an easy decision in my mind. Give Simons and Little as many developmental minutes as they can handle. Trade some of the veterans for younger players and draft picks. Get a little lottery luck and the Blazers could go from a team that has not had many valuable trade assets over the past few years to a team rich with young players and draft picks. In the off season they would be in prime position to make some of those all-in trades people have been wanting for years. Short of a miracle trade that saves the season, making the playoffs to be first round fodder would result in Portland losing their draft pick to the Chicago Bulls as part of the Larry Nance trade. Having that draft asset to either select a lottery talent or use in a trade would be a lot better than no pick at all.
Rain #3: What to do with Jusuf Nurkic?
Nurkic will be a free agent at the end of this season. Cronin has to make the decision by the February 10th trade deadline whether or not he wants to retain Nurkic past this season and also what he’s comfortable paying him. When engaged, Nurkic could still be a big part of this team moving forward. His value to the Blazers when he plays well is likely more than his trade value is, especially considering there aren’t a lot of teams that need a center and some that could use a player like Nurkic don’t really have a lot of assets to trade. This may put the Blazers in a position where it makes more sense to try and make it work with the Bosnian big man rather than lose him for nothing.