Let's be real, friends: Portland, once a haven for hoop fans, is more of a Timbers town now.
After earning a coveted MLS title, the height of soccer glory, like two years ago or something, the whole city is draped in the green and gold, cheering at the stadium, buying pizza at the Hot Lips across the street.
We're all sad about it, to be sure, but the truth is the truth and we have to accept it with grace and equanimity. We're all in the Timbers Army now, and every other team—Thorns, Hops, Pilots, Vikes, and Blazers alike—is deeply unknown by the city at large.
And so, when Willamette Week approached me, Corbin Smith, a freelance writer, about crafting a brief preview of the upcoming Portland Trail Blazers' season in the wake of the team's impressive road trip—a 48-point demolishing of Phoenix and a whisper-thin loss to 15-foot-tall Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Bucks—they demanded, DEMANDED, that I frame this entire preview in Portland Timbers terms. Give the readership something they can relate to, they said.
And so I have done the deed, lining up YOUR favorite Timbers players with their Blazer equivalents, for fun and information!
DAMIAN LILLARD IS: DARLINGTON NAGBE
Nagbe is the best Timbers player I guess? He is a midfielder and Lillard, as the point guard, has a lot of similar, ball handling type duties, working mostly in the middle of the field. Lillard is great at hooping and he gives great quotes to reporters, everyone loves him. Also he makes rap albums without curse words, which I suspect Nagbe also does, although I don't have any hard confirmation on that one way or the other. Also, I am pretty sure there are people who hate Nagbe and this analogy where I compare him to the Blazers best player, much in the same way there are some haters out there who agitate for C.J. McCollum to take a place at the top of the pile, because they're nerds who don't understand the nature of true excellence.
CHRISTIAN JAMES "CJ" MCCOLLUM IS DIEGO VALERI
McCollum is also a guard who does a lot of ball handling, but like Valeri, he also scores. There is a possibility he is better than Lillard, sort of like maybe Valeri might be better than Adi, although I suspect that is nonsense that I could very well be making up from whole cloth. Also, as I understand, Valeri is constantly thirsting for publicity online and writes stuff for whatever publication will have him, taking work from handsome freelance writers like myself. I am almost completely sure Valeri does this.
If you don't like the way I've structed this guard analogy, please flip McCollum and Lillard. I am not precious about these analogies.
AL-FAROUQ AMINU IS: LIAM RIDGEWELL
They both play defense and Aminu also has eccentrically styled hair. Aminu is exceptionally good at defense, and the team's D totally fell apart when he was injured last year. He is extremely important but no one ever talks about it.
NOAH VONLEH IS: DIEGO CHARA
They both have dreadlocks. They don't actually have other shit in common, honestly. Vonleh is a forward who is extremely young and Chara plays mid and is old as hell for a pro athlete. But they do both have dreadlocks.
EVAN TURNER IS: WHICHEVER TIMBER PEOPLE DON'T LIKE
I don't really know who that Timber is: I am a nationally recognized basketball writer, not a local soccer writer, and so this analogy was truly impossible for me to write. But I KNOW there's a member of the Portland Timbers people semi-openly loathe, and this is the position Turner has filled out on the Blazers, mostly because is is insanely bad at shooting for a wing in 2017, and it's sometimes really, really hard to figure out what else he brings to the table. He MIGHT be good at defense, and he can kind of do some playmaking, but the whole offense just gets dinged by his bad shooting whenever he's out there. It gives me almost no joy to write this, by the way, because I loathe the modern orthodoxy of shooting-over-everything in the NBA and I wish it would end, but hey: Demon's out! Anyway I'm not SURE who the analogous player is. The host of The Morrisonic Podcast told me it could be Liam Ridgewell but I already used him for Aminu so I can't do that twice.
MAURICE HARKLESS IS: THE FANS!
Mo Harkless wants the team to win, and for everyone to have a good time. Also, at any second, you feel like he could come to life and drag the team to greater heights with only slight improvements in his game, sort of like how when you watch the Timbers, you are totally convinced that, if they felt so moved, the crowd could stand up out of their chairs and benches, knock over any security personnel that tried to stop them, march on the field en masse, steal the ball, and score with basically no resistance.
JUSUF NURKIC IS: THE GOALPOST
Remember that Timbers playoff shootout where the ball bounced off the pole and saved the day and it was the most bizarre shit you've ever seen? I do, because I was there, in the stadium, watching the game, this is not a joke about how little I know about the Timbers, I swear, I genuinely saw the biggest single moment of Timbers history even though my knowledge of the game and the team are, uhh, minimalist. I do want them to win, I want to be clear, I have a lot of Sounders friends from going to college in Olympia and I like to see their smug ass faces shoved in mud. Also I worked for the team for like three years and they were pretty good to me. Anyway Nurk is a lot like that pole because he is big and white and he prevents the Blazers' opponents from scoring and is beloved by all and also came out of nowhere to take a central place in the mythos of the franchise. He is so great and also he and Lillard are best friends, they sit next to each other on the bench and talk about destroying their enemies every game, it could not possibly be cooler.
JAKE LAYMAN IS: EVERY WHITE PLAYER ON THE TEAM
Jake Layman looks exactly like a white soccer player. Pat Connaughton doesn't have a good analogy because he looks like a white baseball player, which, by the way, he also is. Zach Collins is also a white player on the Blazers, but he doesn't look like anyone or anything but Zach Collins.
CALEB SWANIGAN IS: NO ONE
Soccer doesn't really have analogies for gigantic bruising forwards with passing and shooting touch. I saw Swanigan at the Nike Hoop Summit like… three years ago or so, and he is so, so gigantic, like the biggest human being I've ever seen up close, and he spent his short college career adding a bunch of skills to that size. He has, thus far, looked like the most promising young player on the Blazers. If there is a Timbers player like that, I guess that's who he is? I don't have time to figure it out honestly, I'm going to see Blade Runner 2049 in like half an hour.
MEYERS LEONARD IS: THE UNITED STATES MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM
Meyers, like the USMNT, makes too much money and exists primarily to annoy and frustrate white Americans and/or Blazer fans. But USMNT and Leonard both annoy everyone else, too. I saw him playing Maccabi Haifa up close the other day and it really seems like it's getting to him. He was truly losing his mind out there. I kinda thought he was gonna cry, like the USMNT must do like all the time, because they are loathsome failures. If anything, this analogy is unfair to Leonard, who at least seems like he is trying out there. Also he is really jacked this year, sort of like how the USMNT was supposed to have premium talent now, so, that kind of lines up.
GO: The Trail Blazers play their home opener at the Moda Center at 7 pm Tuesday, Oct. 24.