Which Blazer Will Get Hurt Next? – Portland Trailblazers Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Damian Lilliard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nic Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Meyers Leonard


Key Bench Players: PG Nolan Smith, PG Ronnie Price, PF JJ Hickson, C Joel Freeland

Notable offseason additions: PG Damian Lilliard (6th overall pick), C Meyers Leonard (11th overall pick), PG Ronnie Price

Offseason subtractions: PG Raymond Felton, G Jamal Crawford, PG Jonny Flynn, PF Kurt Thomas

When I say “Portland Trailblazers”, what’s the first thing you think of? No, it’s not a nearly 20 year playoff streak, nor it is their 1977 title on the rapidly degenerating back of Bill Walton. It’s not even the stain of the disgraceful “Jail Blazers” of the late 90’s/early 00’s, or playoff collapse against the Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. No, even worse than that – the word most associated with the Blazers these days is “injuries”.

Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, Joel Przybilla, even coach NateMcMillan wasn’ t exempt from the Ghost of the Jail Blazers, a curse that seemed to grab hold of Portland’s only major sport franchise by the throat, tendons and any other body part that assists in locomotion. What should be a perennial contender behind the legs of Oden and Roy, instead is in the midst of rebuilding about a decade sooner than they thought they would be at this point.
We here at MAMBINO know we’re not the most sensitive people on MAMBINO. Between the Ugly NBA and MLB player power rankings, and our merciless deconstructions of franchises whose fans have nothing left to cheer for, we know that this  isn’t the blog you go to for a digital pat on the back. Well, unless you’re a Lakers fan. Then bring some extra pants, because we’re giving you a good, old-fashioned rubdown.
What I’m getting to here is that I don’t know any better way to preview the Trailblazers than to take a look at the key players and give them a rating on who’s most susceptible for injury. There’s been almost 35 years of an unprecedented streak of unlucky injuries: I think it’s time for us to just be honest with ourselves, P-Town, and prepare for the worst.
LaMarcus Aldridge: LMA had so far been able to avoid the Jail Blazer curse…until this year. Aldridge missed the last 11 games of the season, as well as a “lock” spot on this summer’s Olympic basketball squad with hip surgery that supposedly won’t cause him to miss any games going forward. He is the team’s most important player, an offensive threat almost everywhere on the floor, whether it’s facing up from 15 feet or playing back to the basket in the paint. However, he’s not much of a shot-blocker and is more of a tall guy that gets rebounds rather than a rebounder. I’d say that because of his penchant for that sweet jump shot and his reluctance to truly do the dirty work defensively, he’s actually a relatively low-risk for injury. However, one bad pivot and that hip could act up again.
Jail Blazer Curse-o-meter: 5 out of 10
Nic Batum: Regardless of the flashes of extended brilliance the French swingman has turned into two healthy seasons in a row, nothing could have curried favor with us at MAMBINO more than the blatant fist to the goodies that Batum gave Spanish Guard Jose Calderon during the Olympics. After a game full of flopping so egregious that the Brazilian national team scoffed in disbelief, France’s small forward decided that, in his words, he “wanted to really give them something to flop about”. Still, all of the respect this mighty blog can muster really won’t stop the constant threats to Batum’s health. Even at the age of 23, the guy battled a constant stream of injuries, specifically to his foot and shoulder. With his defensive tenacity growing year after year, as well as the need for him to slash to the rim and take contact, the slight Batum is ripe to crumple at any moment, much like Calderon waiting for a charge. He’s not the team’s best player, but certainly is their defensive anchor on the wing.
Jail Blazer Curse-o-meter: 7 out of 10
Wesley Matthews: Portland’s starting shooting guard forms the three-pronged offensive finishing act that new point guard Damian Lillard hopes to start. If both Aldridge and Batum stay healthy, the three of these excellent jump shooters form a very potent trifecta of inside-out offense. Matthews isn’t much of a driver, though he’s excellent at finishing at the rim, but lingers on the perimeter for long shots. Combine his build with his game, and I can’t imagine him falling prey to the curse. Then again, Joel Pryzbilla re-tore his ACL in the shower, so who knows what God has planned for this Blazer.

Jail Blazer Curse-o-meter: 3 out of 10

Damian Lillard:
The newest Blazer was awarded to the team thanks to Nets GM Billy King’s incompetencelargess, in the form of a February trade involving a nearly unprotected draft pick and F Gerald Wallace. Lillard was taken sixth by Portland out of the mid-major Weber State University. Though his skills are somewhat in question because of the inferior competition he faced from the Big Sky Conference (in which he played such basketball powerhouses like Portland State and U of Montana), the book on the point guard is that while he looks for his own shot, he’s able to see the floor as well as penetrate and hit shots. Lillard is such a badly needed commodity in Portland, seeing as out of the team’s best three players, only LaMarcus can create for himself. They desperately need him to run the offense and play at the very least competent perimeter D to complement Batum. The Blazers are nearly capped out, so unless the team plans on trading Batum, Lillard will have to be the solution to Portland’s missing piece. He hasn’t yet shown any propensity for injuries, but seeing as he’s a Blazer lottery pick, there’s no way that he makes it out of Oregon alive. It’s just science at this point.

Jail Blazer curse-o-meter: 9 out of 10

Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, JJ Hickson: The last two Blazers’ big men to come out of the Pacific Northwest with their limbs still attached to their bodies were Zach Randolph and Rasheed Wallace, but the trade-off with God might have been that they are both batshit crazy. I’m joking of course–Z-Bo actually had microfracture surgery in the summer of 2006, so he certainly wasn’t unscathed.

Each of these guys brings their own set of skills, but the team will be counting on Leonard and Freeland mainly for their defense, while Hickson is there to put up points when LMA is on the bench. The big man corps is emblematic of the Blazers’ biggest weakness: complete lack of depth. Portland is relying on a lot of inconsistent or rookie players to fill up minutes with their starters off the floor. I’m not sure how this team plans to win with a team that can’t afford injuries…BUT, they’re top-heavy enough in talent that they should be able to sneak into the playoffs anyway. 
Oh, as for the bigs, these guys are screwed. They’re over 6’10” and wearing Blazers unis.

Jail Blazer curse-o-meter: 8 out of 10
Best case scenario: The rookies prove to be everything the front office scouted them to be, with Leonard serving as a solid defensive pivot in the lane and Lillard showing that going to a college that sounds like it’s a cracker manufacturer doesn’t mean a damn thing. Aldridge continues his ascent to being a top 10-15 player and Batum makes the All-Star team. The team avoids the injury bug for a team record two seasons in a row, and Portland surprises with a five seed in the playoffs. Portland exits in the second round, but they have a very bright future.

Absolute Apocalypse:
Everybody gets hurt. The team is one of the worst in the league, but is crammed with bad contracts, making rebuilding even harder. None of the rookies work out. Bill Walton is rolling in his grave. The Jail Blazer curse strikes again as the graveyard grows bigger. 

Expected Finish: 3rd in Northwest Division, 8th in Western Conference

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