Trail Blazers On The Move
I've been covering the Trail Blazers since Rick Adelman was coaching, Clyde Drexler was playing and Bill Schonely was announcing, and I can't remember as much player movement from season to season as we've seen from our local NBA contingent this year.
The same goes for around the league after all the action at the trade deadline, but more on that in a minute.
Of the 15 players who began last season on Portland's roster, only six remain — guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., center/forward Zach Collins and center Jusuf Nurkic. And Nurkic will miss at least a good portion of the season while recovering from a broken leg.
Not a forward who began last season with the Blazers returns. Al-Farouq Aminu is with Orlando, Moe Harkless with the Los Angeles Clippers, Meyers Leonard with Miami, Jake Layman with Minnesota and Evan Turner with Atlanta.
Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Caleb Swanigan, Wade Baldwin and Enes Kanter — the latter who came on at midseason — have found new clubs.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has doubled down on the stability of Lillard and McCollum and the promise of Simons and Trent Jr. while providing the 21-year-old Collins with the opportunity to claim a starting job at power forward in his third NBA season.
The Blazers needed help at forward, and Olshey re-signed free agent Rodney Hood and acquired Kent Bazemore, both swing men who also can play shooting guard behind McCollum. Olshey drafted small forward Nassir Little out of North Carolina and added a pair of veteran front-line shooters — Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver — who will get a chance for rotation minutes next season.
Portland also acquired 7-foot center Hassan Whiteside, who has been in and out of Miami coach Erik Spoelstra's doghouse the last two seasons, to plug the hole left with Nurkic's injury.
Whiteside is a shot-blocker and rebounding machine — he averaged 11.3 boards in 23.3 minutes last season — who will make $27 million in the final year of his contract in 2019-20.
Portland, incidentally, is now third in the NBA (behind Oklahoma City and Cleveland) in payroll next season at about $133.1 million — well above the salary cap of $109 million and just higher than the luxury tax threshold of $132 million. The Blazers are the only club in the league that will have three players making at least $27 million next season, with Lillard at $29.8 million and McCollum at almost $27.6 million.
After getting his team to the Western Conference finals last season, coach Terry Stotts will have to work as many as five new players into his regular rotation — not counting Hood, who joined up at midseason last year.
The Blazers will be a contender in the West again, but they'll have plenty of company.
The teams representing the City of Angels, also-rans in recent years, are back in full force thanks to trades and free agency.
The Clippers, who won the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes and added Paul George for good measure, are the early favorites to win the 2020 NBA championship.
The Lakers, who now have Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on the front line with LeBron James, are next in line with such services as BetOnline.com and SportsBetting.ag.
Both sites consider Portland a 33-1 shot to win it all and rank the Blazers seventh in the West, with Houston, Golden State, Utah and Denver all considered better bets to go all the way.
The Blazers' chances could hinge on how well Collins plays at power forward and what happens at center. If Nurkic returns by January and regains his form quickly, Olshey may decide to use Whiteside's expiring contract as a chip at the trade deadline. Or Whiteside may play well enough that the Blazers will keep him and use both big men down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs.
There is validity in the idea that the Clippers are the team to beat. Coach Doc Rivers has ridiculous depth at forward, with Leonard, George, Harkless, Montrezl Harrell, Wilson Chandler, JaMychal Green and Rodney McGruder all having played key roles on teams in the past.
Rivers is likely to use Leonard and George together at the wing positions, with Patrick Beverley at the point and whoever plays best at the 4 and 5 spots.
The Clippers have at least 11 players who will expect to be in the rotation — maybe a good problem to have, but a potential problem nonetheless.
The Lakers don't have the same kind of depth, but they'll have a potent starting front line, veterans Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at guard and apparently LeBron James moving over to start at the point.
Another team near the head of the class is Utah, which has added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic to its starting lineup and veteran forwards Ed Davis and Jeff Green to its bench.
Denver has almost its entire cast back from last season. The Nuggets also traded for Oklahoma City's starting small forward, Jerami Grant, and will add the services of talented redshirt rookie Michael Porter Jr., who missed the 2018-19 season with a back injury.
San Antonio could be a factor again, with the return of point guard Dejounte Murray — who missed all of last season after ACL surgery — and the addition of veterans DeMarre Carroll and Marcus Morris to its bench.
Then there is Golden State, which saw Kevin Durant flee to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson go down with an ACL injury that could keep him out of action for all or most of next season. The Warriors acquired high-scoring D'Angelo Russell from the Nets to fill Thompson's role, but Durant, Cousins and Andre Iguodala are gone, and coach Steve Kerr will have to rely more than ever on the immense talents of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
Of last year's non-playoff teams in the West, Dallas and New Orleans are the ones to watch.
The Mavericks will be led by the centerpiece pair of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingas, the latter the 7-3 center who missed all of last season after ACL surgery.
The Pelicans will feature the prize of the 2019 draft, man-child Zion Williamson, along with veteran acquisitions Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick and pieces from the Anthony Davis trade, which include Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.
Projected rotations for teams in the NBA Western Conference next season
Starters: Tim Hardaway Jr., F; Luka Doncic, F; Kristaps Porzingis, C; Jalen Brunson, G; Delon Wright, G. Reserves: Seth Curry, G; Maxi Kleber, F; Dorian Finney-Smith, F.
Starters: Paul Millsap, F; Jerami Grant, F; Nikola Jokic, C; Gary Harris, G; Jamal Murray, G.
Reserves: Michael Porter Jr., F; Mason Plumlee, C; Will Barton, F.
Starters: Jonas Jerbebko, F; Draymond Green, F; Kevon Looney, C; Stephen Curry, G; D'Angelo Russell, G.
Reserves: Damian Jones, G; Willie Cauley-Stein, C; Klay Thompson, G.
Starters: P.J. Tucker, F; Eric Gordon, F; Clint Capela, C; Russell Westbrook, G; James Harden, G.
Reserves: Gerald Green, F; Austin Rivers, G; Danuel House, F.
Starters: Montrezl Harrell, F; Kawhi Leonard, F; Ivica Zubac, C; Patrick Beverley, G; Paul George, G.
Reserves: Lou Williams, G; Wilson Chandler, F; Moe Harkless, F.
Starters: Anthony Davis, F; Kyle Kuzma, F; DeMarcus Cousins C; Danny Green, G; LeBron James, G.
Reserves: Rajon Rondo, G; Quinn Cook, G; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G.
Starters: Jaren Jackson Jr., F; Josh Jackson, F; Jonas Valanciunas, C; Ja Morant, G; Dillon Brooks, G. Reserves: Jae Crowder, F; Branden Clarke, F
Starters: Robert Covington, F; Andrew Wiggins, F; Karl-Anthony Towns, C; Jeff Teague, G; Josh Okogie, G.
Reserves: Noah Vonleh, F; Jake Layman, F; Jordan Bell, C; Tyus Jones, G.
Starters: Brandon Ingram, F; Zion Williamson, F; Derrick Favors, C; J.J. Redick, G; Jrue Holiday, G.
Reserves: Nicolo Melli, F; Lonzo Ball, G; Josh Hart, G.
Starters: Abdel Nader, F; Danilo Gallinari, F; Steven Adams, C; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G; Chris Paul, G
Reserves: Dennis Schroder, G; Terrance Ferguson G, Nerlens Noel, C.
Starters: Kelly Oubre, F; Dario Saric, F; DeAndre Ayton, C; Devin Booker, G; Rickey Rubio, G.
Reserves: Mikal Bridges, F; Aron Baynes, C; Cameron Johnson, G.
Starters: Rodney Hood, F; Zach Collins, F; Hassan Whiteside, C; Damian Lillard, G; CJ McCollum, G.
Reserves: Anfernee Simons, G; Mario Hezonja, F; Jusuf Nurkic, C.
Starters: Marvin Bagley, F; Harrison Barnes, F; Dewayne Dedmon, C; De'Aaron Fox, G; Buddy Hield, G.
Reserves: Cory Joseph, G; Nemanja Bjelica, F; Trevor Ariza, G.
Starters: Rudy Gay, F LaMarcus Aldridge, F; Jakob Poeltl, C; DeMar DeRozan, G; Dejounte Murray, G.
Reserves: DeMarre Carroll, G. Marcus Morris, F; Patty Mills, G.
Starters: Joe Ingles, F; Bojan Bogdanovic, F; Rudy Gobert, C; Donovan Mitchell, G; Mike Conley, G.
Reserves: Ed Davis, F; Emmanuel Mudiay, G; Jeff Green, F.