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Hype is Real: Blazers get Lillard some help

Published October 14, 2022, 10:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The Portland Trail Blazers want to show Damian Lillard that it’s winning time.

Hype is Real is an NBA.com Philippines series that gives an optimistic view of every NBA team heading into the 2022-2023 season. This is our way of convincing people why they should support and watch a particular team.

Overview of last season

The Portland Trail Blazers essentially punted last season. 

Because of an abdominal injury, Damian Lillard missed most of last season by playing only 29 games. Without their leader, it was obvious how Portland’s season went. The team just couldn’t find their footing without Lillard. Lacking superstar power, the Blazers lost 55 games and finished 13th in the West.

Even before Lillard was shut down in March, the team already decided to give up on the current iteration of the team. Since the pairing of Lillard and CJ McCollum never really produced the results they wanted, management shipped McCollum away, ending the seven-year partnership of the two high-scoring guards. 

That move was done to prove to Lillard that the team is willing to make the tough decisions to build a winning team for him.

What’s new this season?

The Blazers reloaded as best as a small market team could. 

Because of their dismal finish, their draft pick this season ended up being seventh overall which they used on a smooth-scoring wing, Shaedon Sharpe. They also took advantage of the rebuilding Detroit Pistons by acquiring Jerami Grant. Finally, they signed defensive demon Gary Payton II away from the defending champs, giving the team a legitimate stopper on the perimeter. These new players join a core of holdovers that includes Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, and Nassir Little. 

Is this a team that’s better than the one with Robert Covington and McCollum? That’s debatable. Is this team better than the one without Lillard last season? Definitely. 

THE guy

The reason why the team is making all these incremental improvements around their roster is to ensure that their franchise player chooses to stay on the team. Last season, rumors swirled that Lillard wanted out of Portland to join a team with a better chance of winning a championship.

While he eventually shot down all the talk, it was a wake-up call for the team. If they stayed in neutral and continued with their early playoff exits, then it was only a matter of time before Lillard asked to get traded.

The roster that they built for next season firmly puts Lillard at the center of the team. He has the offensive and defensive support that he needs to lead the team back to their winning ways.

Sneaky fun guy

The Blazers are a team that seems like they’re always looking for the right player to slot as the power forward. They tried several players in the past few seasons, including Covington, Little, Carmelo Anthony, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Mo Harkless. While each player brought something unique to the position, no one really fit perfectly next to Lillard in that spot.

This season, the team has brought in the most talented player for that position yet. In his two years with the Pistons, Grant was a fringe All-Star. He averaged 20.9 points, two triples made, nearly a steal, and a block per game. He’s a more complete offensive player than Covington, Harkless, and Aminu. He’s also a better defender than Anthony.

What’s interesting is that Grant did all that without an All-Star creator to set him up. It will be interesting to see how a player of Lillard’s caliber unlocks Grant’s full potential.

Vibe check

It will be interesting to see where the Blazers actually fit in the loaded West. Since they removed themselves from the playoff picture last season, several teams have taken their place. This roster, while talented, is built weird. They have a ton of young talent mixed with players looking to compete for a championship. How does that roster work against more established teams in the league?

What’s sure though is that after missing the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year, Lillard is back, and back with a vengeance. He has new toys to play with and his hunger to win hasn’t changed. Dame with a chip on his shoulder is always must-watch basketball.