Trail Blazers look to rebuild after turbulent season

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — 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 its 11th straight game.

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 around six-time All-Star Lillard. He made a promise to the fans at the Moda Center for the team’s final game.

“This year a lot of things came up that we didn’t expect. Lots of hard times. But you keep showing up. Keep showing us love. Continue to be the fans I’ve always known,” he said. And I just need you to know one thing: This is not going to continue. Next year we are going to come back better than we have been”.

It was a long way from the start of the season, when Lillard showed off 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 looking at draft position after the NBA trade deadline, 11 of Portland’s post-All-Star losses were by 30-plus points.

Over the course of the season, the Blazers used 34 different starting lineups, finishing 13th in the Western Conference.

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

INJURIES ABOUND

Lillard was the Blazers’ most significant injury this season. He played in just 29 games as a result of a nagging abdominal injury that required surgery in January.

Backcourt partner CJ McCollum missed 17 games with a collapsed lung. Others missing significant time included Nassir Little, who suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in late January and missed the rest of the season; Jusuf Nurkic, inactive 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 the games missed due to COVID-19 protocols.

REVOLUTIONS AT THE TOP

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 only one season as an NBA assistant coach.

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

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

SHAKING ON THE COURT

The Blazers made a number of multiplayer deals before the February deadline. Five Blazers who played in the team’s opener against Sacramento were no longer with the team, including three starters.

The most significant of the deals involved McCollum, who had been drafted by the Blazers in 2013 and formed a close bond 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 second-round pick in 2025. The day before the deadline, the Blazers acquired the injured Joe Ingles in a three-team game. trade with Utah and San Antonio.

THE RISE OF ANFERNEE

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

Simons jumped at the chance when Lillard was 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 January 3 against Atlanta, making him the youngest Trail Blazer to have a 40-point game. On Feb. 14 at Milwaukee, he hit seven 3-pointers and finished 18 games with five-plus 3-pointers.

The Blazers also shut him down for the final stretch of the season. He missed the last 17 games with patellar tendinopathy in his left knee.

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