Every year the Blazers look outclassed in the West, surprise in the regular season, and disappoint in the playoffs. Is this the year things change?
The Portland Trail Blazers never seem to have enough. Since LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum left town, the team has consistently lacked ideal supporting pieces around Damian Lillard. They look miles behind their counterparts in the Western Conference, with little mobility for the future thanks to their fate as the biggest victims of the 2016 cap spike spending spree. Every year it looks like they’ll be pretty low in the West’s rank and file, and the playoffs look like a bridge too far.
Two of the past three years, though, that fate has been exaggerated. In 2015-16, the team made the second round of the West playoffs, a better outcome than the final Aldridge team. Then last season, they won a Northwest division that featured four playoff teams and a fifth team that won 46 games. That’s an outstanding feat, mostly performed to the credit of coach Terry Stotts, who consistently gets more out of a subpar roster.
Of course, the last three seasons have all ended in bludgeonings in the playoffs, twice to the Warriors and last season in an embarrassing sweep by the Pelicans. The roster that outperforms expectations in the regular season leaves a sour taste in the mouths of fans, and we find ourselves in the same place we do every fall, with a Portland team that has established success feeling like one of the least stable teams in the league, as the inability to improve the roster has put pressure on GM Neil Olshey and Lillard’s sidekicks, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.
Will 2018-19 be more of the same in Portland? The roster stays pretty much the same, but the West has improved. As the Blazers head into a high-pressure season, their rotation will need to play up to their established high standard. Is that enough?