PORTLAND, Ore (AP) — The Trail Blazers season began with Damien Lillard declaring his belief that the team would be competitive. It ended with him on the bench in street clothes, watching Portland lose their 11th straight game.
With a flood of injuries, a new coach, a front-office shakeup and a roster overhaul, the Blazers’ turbulent season was less about the present and more about rebuilding the future.
Portland enters the offseason with at least one lottery pick and cap space, armed with a plan to make Lillard a nearly six-time All-Star. He made a promise to the fans at the Moda Center for the team’s final game.
“A lot happened this year which we did not expect. very difficult time. But you guys keep showing up. Keep showing us love. Be the kind of fan I’ve always known,” he said. “And I just need to know one thing: This won’t continue. Next year we’re going to be back better than ever.”
It was far from the start of the season, when Lillard showed off his Olympic gold medal and said: “I think we’ve always had a competitive team over the years, I think we’ll be competitive again.”
The Blazers finished 27–55, their worst season since 2005–06 when they won just 21 games. Clearly eyeing draft status after the NBA trade deadline, Portland’s 11 losses after the All-Star break were more than 30 points.
The Blazers used 34 different starting lineups during the season, finishing 13th in the Western Conference.
“It’s not the season any of us expected, but the way I look at it honestly, this year has been like a real microcosm of life. You have these great thoughts and plans and ideas , and then things happen and you have to pivot,” said first-year Portland coach Chauncey Billups. “And then it becomes how you pivot, and what you do.”
plethora of injuries
Lillard was the most important of the Blazers’ injuries this season. He played only 29 games, necessitating surgery in January as a result of a serious abdominal injury.
Backcourt teammate CJ McCallum missed 17 games due to a collapsed lung. Others who lost significant time included Nasser Little, who sustained a labral tear in his left shoulder in late January and missed the rest of the season; Jusuf Narkik ruled out for last 22 games of the season with plantar fasciitis; and Larry Nance Jr., who missed 17 games with a swelling of the right knee before being traded.
And that is not to mention the games that have been missed due to the COVID-19 protocol.
shakeup on top
The Billups were hired in the offseason as the team’s new coach, replacing Terry Stotts, who had led the team to the playoffs over the past eight seasons. The Billups had limited experience with just one season as an NBA assistant coach.
Blazers President and CEO Chris Magowan stepped down in November and was replaced by Dwayne Hankins, the team’s vice president and chief commercial officer.
General Manager Neil Olsche was then fired by Portland in December following an external investigation into concerns about the workplace environment. Joe Cronin, an assistant GM, was promoted to fill the role on an interim basis.
shakeup on court
The Blazers rolled out a flurry of multiplayer deals ahead of the February deadline. The five Blazers who played in the team’s opener against Sacramento were no longer with the team, including three starters.
The most significant deals involved McCallum, who was drafted by the Blazers in 2013 and forged a close relationship with Lillard. He was sent to the New Orleans Pelicans with Nance and Tony Snell.
Portland also traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Justice Winslow, rookie Keon Johnson and a second-round pick in 2025. A day before the deadline, the Blazers acquired injured forward Joe Ingalls in a three-team. Trade with Utah and San Antonio.
Rise of ANFERNEEE
A bright spot in the otherwise forgettable season was the rise of guard Anferney Simmons.
Simmons took advantage of the opportunity when Lillard was injured. After taking over as starter, he averaged 23.4 points and 5.8 assists.
Just 22, he scored a career-high 43 points against Atlanta on January 3, making him the youngest Trail Blazers to have a 40-point game. In Milwaukee on February 14, he had seven 3-pointers, and he finished 18 games with five-plus 3s.
The Blazers also closed him for the final leg of the season. He missed the last 17 games with patellar tendinopathy of the left knee.
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