The Toronto Raptors have been newly minted as the 2018-2019 NBA champions, knocking off the depleted Golden State Warriors. The Portland Trail Blazers fell four games short of a date with the Raptors. A lot of the 2018-2019 campaign of the Blazers left us fans salivating for more: being swept by the Warriors in a series in which they led by more total minutes, Jusuf Nurkic’s brutal end of season injury before the playoffs, and Damian Lillard losing steam in the final playoff series. Even though the Blazers finished as one of the final four teams fighting for the championship, sports betting websites pegged the Blazers as having the 15thbest odds to take home the 2020 championship. This should come as no surprise if you factor in two things: 1) the Blazers are certainly not the favorite to land any top free agents and 2) the Blazers are a victim of being on the west coast and always having low expectations
For starters, the state of the Western Conference next year is wild to put it mildly. Kevin Durant, prior to tearing his ACL in the NBA Finals, was set to join an Eastern Conference power, but now has equal chance rejoining the Warriors. The Warriors are also expected to offer a max contract to another player who will not see the court next year, Klay Thompson, another victim of a season ending injury. While these two signings will significantly bolster the Warriors chances a year from now, it will mean next year they will have two max contract players sitting out every game thus crippling their opportunity to contend this coming season. The power struggle in the West is looking like it will come down to where the marquee free agents decide to sign. The Blazers, like in the past, seem destined to not make a splash in free agency. The Los Angeles Lakers have already made a splash trading for Anthony Davis in the hopes that they can sign him to a long-term extension during the year. Giving the Lakers one of the most potent duos in the league with Davis and LeBron James. But this trade does not give the Lakers much wiggle room to fill out their roster other than projected starters; James, Davis, and Kyle Kuzma.
But this is why the Blazers, fresh off a Western Conference Finals birth, will continue to reach new heights.
There is an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Blazers may have just been swept by the Warriors, but as I previously mentioned, while the team was enjoying vacation and dreaming about what could have been, the Warriors got bit by the injury bug. This is a feeling the Blazers know too well, dating back to Sam Bowie, Brandon Roy, and Greg Oden. But if they are willingly to open up their checkbook and go over the cap space to re-sign their current free agents, the Blazers can return a team that went toe-to-toe with the former champs and reinforcements are on their way! Just before the stretch run prior to the playoffs, the Blazers bit the injury bug themselves. Jusuf Nurkic went down with a brutal injury, but if rehab goes as expected, he should be rejoining the team down the stretch next year and hopefully be in playing shape by the time the playoffs roll around. We also saw encouraging performances during the playoffs by young big men Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins, both of whom are expected to have extended roles next year with Nurkic sitting. Collins is the look of the new age NBA four man, a player who can stretch the floor with his shooting and playmaking but also can bang down low when matched up with smaller post men. Meyers Leonard may become a trading piece later in the year, having emerged going into the final year of his contract, which for the most part, he has underwhelmed but he did come on strong during the final series against the Warriors. The Blazers continue to build within their franchise while every other team tries to chase the next shiny object through free agency, but one thing free agency cannot buy is team chemistry! The Blazers goes to battle for each other and that sense of family will show through next year.