Goddamn, folks: The NBA season starts today! I suspect you know what that means: you and the boys, packing into some bar, cheering for the game, opening your mouth and your eyes as wide as they can go, so you can really breathe in and absorb the ESSENCE of your FELLOW MAN in celebration of the MIGHTY VICTORIES of YOUR. PORTLAND. TRAAAAAAAAIL BLAZ….
Oh, uh, sorry? Getting word from editorial that there's a "global pandemic" of some sort? The kind that might limit the team's existence as a social event? Well, gotta say, I'm disappointed, because I am fundamentally unable to relate to another human being except through the prism of sports.
But, thankfully, I am also able to relate to sports entirely on their own terms, without refracting the light of other people's spirits through it and, barring a massive outbreak of COVID-19 among players and support staff that makes the operation untenable (totally possible!), the NBA is going to have a 72-game season this year. The Blazers tip off their home opener tonight, in front of no fans.
Last year, the Blazers stank. After losing Jusuf Nurkic to a gruesome leg fracture at the end of an otherwise magical 2018-19 season, they traded for Hassan Whiteside, the single most aggravating player in the league, and opted to let key defensive wings go. It all felt like a deferral: an organization trying to stay afloat until Nurk returned and they could maybe take aim at the No. 8 seed.
They nearly didn't get away with it, even after signing a surprisingly not-washed Carmelo Anthony to shore up the wing play, but thankfully a global pandemic struck the world and they still made the playoffs on account of Nurk's injury healing by the time the NBA's wild-ass bubble season started. They were forced into a dance of death with the LeBron/Anthony Davis Lakers, but still: They danced.
After this noble exit, general manager Neil Olshey spent the offseason going all the way in and outfitting the squad to take a real stab at contending.
Robert Covington was probably the most important get, a defensive-minded combo forward who also plays a little center. Good defender, accomplished shooter, the exact kind of player the Blazers have needed since Al-Farouq Aminu left and kind of even before that, seeing as Aminu's 3-point shot tended to come and go with the tides.
Melo is back and, at the very least, he has looked good in preseason and will continue to fill the essential role of "Metropolitan weirdo playing for a cow town and shooting turnarounds that go in way more than they should." Rodney Hood re-signed after tearing his Achilles last year. Three-and-D guys like Hood who don't rely on explosive first steps aren't as fucked by an Achilles as, say, Derrick Rose. Center Enes Kanter, weirdly beloved in Portland, will come off the bench at center. He really operates very well in Terry Stotts' offense. Harry Giles and Derrick Jones Jr. are young and seem like they're poised to be good role players.
All in all, good offseason, filling in all the holes the team has needed to fill for a decade in order to really make it to the promised land.
And, shit, they still have some assets lying around, picks and back-end members of the roster another team could sell themselves on (I am talking about Anfernee Simons, dreadful last year but possessing a lot of raw talent for a team that can afford playing time to develop him).
The Western Conference seems as if it will go through the Lakers this year. They are terribly talented and they employ LeBron James, who is very good at basketball (not as good as Michael Jordan, though). But even if, god forbid, James' massive shoulders represent an unscalable mountain, it was still time for the organization to go all in before Damian Lillard is ground into dust by his time in the league. I'm excited to see where this is going to go.
Unless it breaks bad, of course. That would be really miserable.