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Predicting 2023: It gets ugly for the Blazers
As we charge full steam into 2023, The I-5 Corridor offers up our predictions for the coming year.
Predicting 2023 is a series that will run on The I-5 Corridor over the month of January featuring stories with our outlook for the upcoming year. Today we continue with another season spent in NBA purgatory.
Hello everyone and welcome to another addition of “What year is this?” where we, the I-5 Corridor, present you with a Damian Lillard quote about the team’s future and you, the reader, get to guess which January it’s from.
Without further ado, let’s get to the tape:
“I’m confused why y’all asking me these questions right now, honestly. I respect it, but the bottom line is we’re at the midway point of the season and we’re struggling right now. We’re not playing really well. We’ve been in a lot of these games. None of these games are just like we’re getting blown away. So, I think as far as basketball goes, there are things that we can do to be better and we win some of these games.”
Now, could this be January of 2022, when a Blazers team with mounting injuries and a losing record forced them to potentially make moves with the core of their roster?
How about January of 2020, when a Blazers team with mounting injuries and a losing record forced them to consider making moves with the core of their roster?
Or how about January of 2017, when a Blazers team dropped its fourth consecutive game — to the Trust the Process 76ers — to fall nine games under .500 with a roster that had enough defensive flaws to force them to consider making moves with the core of their roster?
No? None of those?
Ah yes, because this was from last night, no matter how much it’s felt like most of the Januarys of Lillard’s brilliant career. See, last night started with a tear-filled honoring of the late Bill Schonely, the heart and soul of the organization for 40-plus years. And it even included yet another nod to Lillard surpassing Clyde Drexler as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
It was a grand waxing of nostalgia, which then led to a waxing of a loss — this time a 25-point blown halftime lead that featured little offensive flow from the Blazers, a jarring lack of defense in the post and Patrick Flippin Beverley getting to gloat in front of a sold-out arena for the final minutes of the game.
That part should have pissed off the entire Moda Center if it wasn’t at least a third filled with Lakers fans on Monday. Instead, after playing a full game of something he calls basketball, Beverley got to walk around the floor, mocking Lillard while pointing at an imaginary watch as if he was the one responsible for getting the Lakers back in the game — not the Blazers’ inability to stop a 38-year-old LeBron James, who scored 17 points in the third quarter.
Beverley, whose made a career of riding the coattails of better players, didn’t earn his celebration. In fact, he probably thinks he’s the one who locked down Lillard in the second half. Lillard finished with 24 points and his third sub-30-percent shooting night in a month that’s seen the Blazers drop 8-of-11 games and fall to 13th in the Western Conference standings.
But if you watch the Blazers, this team is the one responsible for stopping itself. Sure, Lillard can still wow, Anfernee Simons can hit some buckets and even Jerami Grant can be effective creating his own shot down on the block. But the Blazers have five guys out on the court most nights whose only offensive philosophy consists of setting a few lazy screens and relying on one-on-one hero ball. There is no player in the NBA who has to work harder to create an open shot than Lillard. And when you throw a pest like Beverley to pick him up full court, you’re either going to get a night of social-media worthy 40-foot threes, or you’re going to get what happened last night, where Beverley actually affected Dame and Blazers fans were treated to a night of complaints to the refs and surly answers in the postgame.
And of course, Lillard shouldn’t be the one answering all of these questions, right? He’s not picking and choosing the nights he wants to play hard like Jusuf Nurkic. He’s not the one signing free agent deals or hiring a coach in Chauncey Billups who has been a clear step backwards from the coach the franchise fired two years ago. It would be unfair to expect the Blazers to have the flow of say, the peak Golden State Warriors, but it is fair to expect the Blazers to create an offense that can get Lillard just one bucket where he doesn’t have to dribble 1,000 times in the process.
But who cares? That’s the question I’m worried about. The Blazers have absentee ownership that’s going to keep taking advantage of a loyal fanbase as long as they continue to fill the arena and a first-year general manager handcuffed because of it.
Like it or not, that leaves Lillard. He’s in his 11th season with a franchise he’s unnecessarily backed himself into a corner with by his comments about super teams and wanting to retire as a Blazer. And that’s not bad living: By the time his current contract expires in 2027, this franchise will have paid him nearly $500 million and his legacy will be buffered by loyalty and a city that never put the right pieces around him.
Or, at least that’s how it sounds when Jason Quick’s question was just met with: “My job is to play point guard.”
Dame should give the fans and media in this city a little more credit, because it’s clearly more than that.
But what if that’s what it becomes?
— Tyson Alger
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