The Portland Trail Blazers’ season just keeps on taking hit after hit this season. Injuries, COVID-19 woes, and ownership drama has plagued this team all year long. After a disappointing first-round exit against the Denver Nuggets, fans wanted this team to bounce back. Instead, they seem to have regressed further.
The latest blow to their season might be the most brutal. Blazers star guard Damian Lillard has struggled all season long. Now, he’ll miss a significant chunk of the season due to an abdominal surgery he underwent recently. We might not have seen a lot of Dame Time moments this season, but his value to this team is massive.
Still, this isn’t the time for the Blazers to hang their heads and call it quits. There’s plenty to play for this season, and both the front office and the players have a lot to play for before the season ends.
Proving His Worth
Perhaps the biggest benefactor of Damian Lillard’s unfortunate injury is Anfernee Simons. The young Blazers guard has been a bright spot for the team off the bench over the last few years as a backup to Dame and CJ McCollum. Now, Simons will likely be thrust into a more prominent role in the rotation, which is a good thing for him.
Unlike most of his peers in the 2018 NBA draft, Simons hasn’t signed an extension with the Blazers just yet. Lillard’s injury opens up an opportunity for the 24th overall pick to show that he’s a valuable piece for this team. He’s certainly shown he can keep his production without Lillard playing: in 22 games without Dame, Simons is averaging 15.1 points and 3.9 assists in 27.7 minutes of action.
Anfernee Simons will be entering restricted free agency after this season. Depending on how well he plays, he could force the Blazers’ hand to pay a premium for him. This is the most pivotal moment of his young career, and he needs to capitalize on it.
A New Spotlight
Simons may be the biggest benefactor from Dame’s injury, but that doesn’t mean other players won’t benefit from it. Losing the team’s best scorer and playmaker means that more Blazers will need to pick up the slack to remain competitive.
McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic are the team’s elder statesmen at this point. Most of the scoring load will fall heavily on their shoulders, and they should be ready to handle this situation. Norman Powell, fresh off signing an extension with the Blazers, will get a chance to prove that the contract he was given was well-deserved. Nassir Little, Robert Covington, and Larry Nance Jr. will also be given opportunities to shine in Dame’s absence.
Perhaps more importantly for the Blazers brass, this stretch of games allows them to assess their assets and see which players can fetch great value for them. Keeping Damian Lillard in Portland has been one of the team’s priorities, and part of keeping him here is having a great supporting cast. Seeing which players fit well with Dame and which ones should be traded will be the team’s top priorities here.
The Blazers currently sit at 10th in the Western Conference, but this season is looking all but lost. They sit at a brutal 16 – 24 record, miles behind the eighth seed at this point. Barring an unforeseen resurgence from their players, it’s likely that this team will miss the playoffs this year. Shutting down Lillard for the year is a likely possibility.
Still, there’s a lot of hope for Blazers fans this season. They get an opportunity to see which of their current players can be valuable contributors behind Lillard once he returns from his injury, and which ones can fetch a decent return from a potential trade. There’s always a silver lining behind everything, and that includes this situation for Portland.