Although they are not heavily marketed or regarded as an important team in the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers have been making waves this offseason. From their very successful draft performance to their active free agency, the Blazers are showing fans around the league that they are ready to compete for a championship in a more competitive Western Conference.
Although they did not make any headlines by signing any of the big names on the market the team made minor adjustments and then acquired a talented big man in Hassan Whiteside. In the end, while there may be some regrets over some of the decisions that they made this offseason, the Blazers can look back at this offseason and be proud of their work.
It started with the Draft. Though they only had one pick this year (25th pick in the first round), they used it to draft SF Nassir Little from the University of North Carolina. In many mock drafts, Little was predicted to be a lottery pick -- so it was a surprise when he slid all the way to the 25. He was unable to properly prove himself with the Tar Heels last season, but it is no secret that he has special talent and skillset. With a chip on his shoulder for not being able to be a starter at UNC, Little comes into the league with unique and special size at 224 pounds, 6 feet and 6 inches, and a 7 foot 1-inch wingspan. Surrounded by great talent in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic, Little has great role models to look up to. Once he grows and learns from his teammates, he can become a true stud in the league.
This summer, the Trail Blazers also improved through a series of great trades. The two headline players that the Blazers traded for were Kent Bazemore and Hassan Whiteside. In the former, the Blazers sent Evan Turner to the Hawks for Bazemore, a deal that will be considered a big success for the team for two reasons. Firstly, the Blazers were able to shed the remaining portion of Turner’s very, very expensive contract. The gamble of Turner never paid off, but Portland was able to gain more talent in return for giving him up. Bazemore will add much-needed depth for the team.
As for the Hassan Whiteside trade, he fills a major hole for their roster. A major defect for the team last season was the lack of their depth in the frontcourt. After Jusuf Nurkic’s mid-season injury, the Blazers did not add any players that could match or even attempt to reproduce Nurkic’s production. As a result, the Blazers faltered in their Western Conference Finals loss against the Golden State Warriors. Although he has fallen off his cliff of stardom in the last couple of years, Whiteside is able to produce what Portland requires of him. Not only will he provide depth for this Blazers team, but he will be able to cover for Nurkic while he recovers from his gruesome injury.
Additionally, the Blazers also won free agency. They were able to offer a supermax contract extension to superstar Damian Lillard. By signing Lillard to a 4 year, $196 million contract, the Trail Blazers showed their dedication and commitment to Lillard as their franchise player for years to come. This also indirectly sends the message that championship contention is in their sight and that they will not be entering a rebuild anytime soon. Since being drafted with the 6th pick, the 4-time All-Star has put on amazing numbers for the Blazers.
They also re-signed sharpshooter Rodney Hood. After acquiring him via a trade in the middle of last season, Hood’s contribution towards the Blazers’ playoff run was immense. He was the offensive spark that this team needed and his services were assured for another two years after signing a contract for 16 million over the next two years.
However, even with all of these great decisions, Portland will have some demons to face next season. The loss of Enes Kanter will hurt them. In addition, the loss of Al- Farouq Aminu to the Magic will also be painful as his contributions as a 3-and-D player were highly valued on this team. He was an integral part of the Blazers’ playoff run.
All of this happened as several Western teams got better, including the Lakers, Clippers, Pelicans, and Mavericks. Despite all their talent, an optimistic future, the Blazers will have their work cut out for them if they want to continue to be taken seriously in the West. But don't make the mistake of counting them out completely -- they have proven that to be the mistake of many in seasons past.