After the dust of free agency has settled, there is a lot of speculation about where the Portland Trail Blazers will land during the season, and Zach Harper of the Athletic argues that the Blazers are a potential breakthrough team for next year’s playoffs. Harper acknowledges the deep changes Portland has made to its roster, noting that he expects the Blazers to go big with both Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside. Harper suggests that the biggest question for the upcoming season is Whiteside’s potential performance.
X-Factor who could change it, for better or worse? Whiteside. If you want to buy into a change of scenery and a contract year and Damian Lillard’s leadership as all things that will fix the issues Whiteside has within the team concept, that’s fine. I won’t bemoan that optimism. He was so detrimental to the team dynamic in Miami the last couple years that they were beyond happy to get rid of him this season. They kept finding ways to move him out of the lineup because of how singularly focused he was on getting his own shine over the team. Perhaps the change will be a wake-up call, as will the chance to earn a bunch of money this summer. But really, Portland just needs to pray Nurkic comes back and doesn’t have that awkward adjustment period from such a brutal injury.
It remains to be seen how Whiteside will mesh with his new team, and Nurkic is not expected back until the second half of the season. Harper concludes by stating that the Blazers are a good team with a lot of potential, acknowledging the talent of Coach Terry Stotts.
In a loaded Western Conference, it is hard to say where anyone will stand, after the serious shuffling of free agency.
You can read Harper’s breakdown of the Western Conference playoff picture here.