The Blazers’ Bad Luck
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The Portland Trail Blazers have enjoyed a relatively successful tenure in the NBA since their conception in 1970, making the Finals three times and winning once. They have also made the playoffs 34 times out of a possible 49 years and hold the second longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances with 21 appearances. Yet they have also been the target of criticism in recent years, as they seem to be unable to get to the promised land, only reaching the Conference Finals once in the last decade.
The Blazers of recent memory are headed by superstar point guard Damian Lillard, who, since being drafted in 2012, has been Rookie of the Year, along with having four All-NBA selections and five All-Star game appearances. Lillard, a score-first, uber-aggressive guard with above-average playmaking, has been the focal point of the Blazers’ offense for years, with a career scoring average of 23.5 points. Before the 2019-2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lillard was on an unbelievable hot streak: during an 11-game stretch between January and February, he averaged 40.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists. On top of that, he was shooting an impressive field goal percentage of 52.6 percent and made almost six threes every game. These stats are reminiscent of past performances put on by other superstars like Stephen Curry and James Harden in their MVP seasons.
This one-man-show has not always led to victories, however, as the Blazers only went 7-4 in that 11-game stretch. Unfortunately, Lillard’s efforts have not been reciprocated by his teammates throughout the years. During his tenure in Portland, he only played with one other All-Star, Lamarcus Aldridge. With Aldridge leaving for the San Antonio Spurs in 2015, Lillard has since been the lone All-Star on the team, with C.J. McCollum as his running mate.
However, the struggles for the Blazers don’t end there. The Blazers have been infamous for their lack of luck when it comes to injuries. Just in the 2019-2020 season, the frontcourt defense fell apart with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins sidelined with major injuries. Nurkic especially has been a defensive cornerstone, as he is widely considered one of the league’s better rim protectors. As a result, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless were forced to take on more defensive responsibilities and collapsed Coach Terry Stotts’s defensive system. In addition, both Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony were defensive liabilities in the backcourt, whereas modern NBA forwards usually are capable of guarding all five positions; this was one of the reasons why both athletes were released by their former team.
The injury bug historically has been even worse for the Blazers. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden are two of Portland’s biggest what-if stories, with both players seemingly having star potential, but never panning out due to injury. Roy was a three-time All-Star at the age of just 26, but then, he retired due to a lack of cartilage in either knee. Oden, the first pick of the 2007 draft, was famously picked before perennial All-Star and all-time great, Kevin Durant. Oden’s career was plagued with an injury as well; he went through three microfracture surgeries before fizzling out of the league. These surgeries were largely caused by the difference in the length of his legs; one leg was eight millimeters longer than the other, which caused him to walk with a dip. Oden never enjoyed the few All-Star years Roy did and has been known as one of the greatest busts in NBA history. Going back to the 1985 draft, one such man named Michael Jeffrey Jordan was on the board when the Blazers held the second pick. Yet the Blazers did not pick the high-flying shooting guard out of North Carolina, as they already had their own athletic guard in Clyde Drexler, a legend in his own right. They chose Sam Bowie instead, who played just four injury-laden years with the Blazers, never reaching Jordan’s level of play.
The Blazers have been a relatively successful franchise for the last 50 years. However, it seems that the Larry O’Brien trophy has largely eluded them due to a perfect storm of factors. Their luck in the draft has been historically terrible, their history with superstar injuries is tragic, and their playoff success is lacking. All in all, the Blazers seem to have some terrible encounters with chance, and with Lillard steering the ship alone, their future does not seem too bright.