The Portland Trail Blazers are going through a bit of a rough patch right now, with the controversy surrounding the hiring of coach Chauncey Billups refusing to go away.
I know many Blazers fans are conflicted about the team right now, about whether Billups was the right coaching hire for moral reasons, or for basketball reasons, or if General Manager Neil Olshey should have been the one doing the hiring, or if Olshey should even have a job with the team.
Regardless of the team’s circumstances, I’m here to tell you all is not lost.
The Blazers have not won a title since their fabled win in 1977. If the goal of any NBA is to win a championship, there really isn’t a better time than now. Over the last three seasons, 3 different teams have won championships, and six different teams have appeared. The Warriors lost in the 2019 finals in their fifth consecutive appearance and three championships in that span. It would be good for the league if that was the last dynasty for a while. Overlapping with the Warriors run, LeBron James led squads with the Miami Heat, and Cleveland Cavaliers made eight consecutive trips to the finals, winning three. If the vast majority of a league’s teams are simple cannon fodder for super dynasties, no one else is motivated to try and break out of the pack. If your season will end with an early playoff exit to the team fated to win, why try any harder than you have to? Hopefully, those days are done.
The Bucks rode to the title on the back of megawatt superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, surrounded by smart coaching staff and just enough talent to support the Greek Freak and not get in his way. The Phoenix Suns, who put forth an admirable effort in winning the first two games, were buried in the Western Conference standings just two years ago. Last year they finished hot but still missed out on the playoffs in the NBA’s bubble finish to the season. This year they were the West’s No.2 seed in the regular season and just missed out on a title.
If the Suns can do it with a roster almost entirely bereft of stars that would be considered well known outside of the Phoenix metro area, or the Bucks can do it when they were being encouraged to trade just a few years ago their biggest star, so can the Blazers. The West is wide open- the LeBron-led Lakers are aging, and the Warriors dynasty is similarly falling apart. In their place are rising teams of young guns — the Suns, the Nuggets, the Jazz– and there is no reason the Blazers should not be among them. They have one of the top guard duos in the league in Lillard and C.J McCollum. The Blazers can — and should — compete with those teams. They have the roster to do it, even without making any large-scale moves this summer. According to Olshey, the roster wasn’t the problem to begin with; the problem was coaching. Regardless of what one may think of Billups, Olshey has his coach now.
With a salary cap and without any teams that are likely to be long-term dynasties, any of the top five or six teams in each conference should theoretically have a chance. The Bucks may have the easiest chance to make multiple trips to the finals, given that most of the teams in the Eastern Conference below them can never get out of their own way, but as they repeatedly showed in the postseason, they are far from invulnerable. The West truly is open, the dynasties are dead, and the Blazers have just as good a shot as anyone else to reach the finals next season.
Can they put aside the offseason of dysfunction, learn to play defense and finally reach their potential? If they can do that, I bet many Blazers fans would be willing to overlook a lot in exchange for the team’s first title in 45 years.