Trail Blazers looking to rebuild after turbulent season

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Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard sits on the bench during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs Friday, April 1, 2022 in San Antonio. Lillard is injured and out for the rest of the season. (AP Photo/Nick Wagner)

PA

The Trail Blazers season began with Damian Lillard declaring his faith that the team would be competitive. It ended with him on the bench in street clothes, watching Portland lose their 11th game in a row.

With a string of injuries, a new coach, a front office shakeup and a roster overhaul, the Blazers’ turbulent season was less about the present and more about rebuilding for the future.

Portland heads into the offseason with at least one lottery pick and cap space, armed with a plan to build about six-time All-Star Lillard. He made a promise to fans at the Moda Center for the team’s final game.

“This year a lot of things happened that we didn’t expect. Lots of tough times. But you keep showing yourself. Keep showing us love. Continue to be the fans that I’ve always known,” he said. “And I just need you to know one thing: it won’t continue. Next year we will be back better than we have been.

It was a long way from the start of the season, when Lillard displayed his Olympic gold medal and said: “I think over the years we’ve always had a competitive team, I think we’ll be competitive again. .”

The Blazers finished 27-55, their worst season since 2005-06 when they won just 21 games. Clearly in sight of the draft position after the NBA trade deadline, 11 of Portland’s losses after the All-Star break were over 30 points.

During the season, the Blazers used 34 different starting formations, finishing 13th in the Western Conference.

“It’s not a season that any of us expected, but the way I see it in all honesty, this year has been like a real microcosm of life. You have these great ideas, these plans and those thoughts and then things happen and you have to pivot,” Portland freshman coach Chauncey Billups said. “And then it’s about how you pivot and what you do.

INJURIES Abound

Lillard has been the Blazers’ biggest injury this season. He played just 29 games, following a nagging abdominal injury that required surgery in January.

Backcourt partner CJ McCollum missed 17 games with a collapsed lung. Others who missed a lot of time include Nassir Little, who suffered a labral tear in his left shoulder in late January and missed the rest of the season; Jusuf Nurkic, stopped for the last 22 games of the season with plantar fasciitis; and Larry Nance Jr., who missed 17 games with right knee inflammation before being traded.

And that’s not to mention missed games due to COVID-19 protocols.

TOP SHAKEUPS

Billups was hired in the offseason as the team’s new coach, replacing Terry Stotts, who had led the team to playoff appearances the past eight seasons. Billups had limited experience with just one season as an NBA assistant coach.

Blazers president and CEO Chris Magowan resigned in November and was replaced by Dewayne Hankins, the team’s vice president and chief commercial officer.

General manager Neil Olshey was later fired by Portland in December following an outside investigation into concerns about the working environment. Joe Cronin, an assistant general manager, was promoted to fill the role on an interim basis.

CHANGES ON THE PITCH

The Blazers completed a flurry of multiplayer deals ahead of the February deadline. Five Blazers who played in the team’s first game against Sacramento were no longer with the team, including three starters.

The biggest of the deals involved McCollum, who was drafted by the Blazers in 2013 and had a close relationship with Lillard. He was sent to the New Orleans Pelicans along with Nance and Tony Snell.

Portland also traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, rookie Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-round pick. The day before the deadline, the Blazers acquired injured forward Joe Ingles in a three-team. trade with Utah and San Antonio.

THE ASCENT OF AFERNEE

The only bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season was the rise of guard Anfernee Simons.

Simons took advantage of the opportunity when Lillard got injured. After taking over as a starter, he averaged 23.4 points and 5.8 assists.

At just 22 years old, he scored a career-high 43 points on Jan. 3 against Atlanta, making him the youngest Trail Blazer to have a 40-point game. On Feb. 14 at Milwaukee, he had seven 3-pointers and he finished with 18 games with five plus 3s.

The Blazers also shut it down for the final part of the season. He has missed the last 17 games due to patellar tendinopathy in his left knee.

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Sandy A. Greer