Rip City Project
The Portland Trail Blazers entered the 2019-2020 season with championship aspirations. Fresh off a surprising Western Conference Finals birth, the team focused their offseason moves on free agents and trades that took the scoring burden off its two stars; Damian Lillard and CJ McCullom. The Blazers began training camp with an entirely different starting lineup — outside of the star guards — and a bench unit comprised of mostly of new acquisitions. But one thing was clear from the get-go, and that was that this would be Zach Collins year to finally break through and shine.
Sadly, Collins season — and possibly the team’s title hopes — was put to bed during the Blazers’ third game of the season against the Dallas Mavericks. While going up for a rebound at around the two-minute mark of the 3rd quarter, he pushed off a Mavericks player and ended up dislocating his left shoulder. He was immediately rushed back to the locker room and did not return to the game. While he stated afterward that he wasn’t experiencing any pain, the team held him out of the next two road games and re-evaluated him upon returning to Portland. The team had been mum about the extent of his injury until Monday, where before the start of an embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors, the team announced that he would need a labral repair of his injured shoulder.
Collins successfully underwent surgery on Tuesday and won’t be re-evaluated until four months from now (March), but exact timetables vary amongst NBA players for this type of injury. And with the Blazers already dealing with injuries to big men Jusuf Nurkic (not expected back until February), Pau Gasol (still recovering from offseason foot surgery), they are down to only two healthy players on the roster registering taller than 6’9” in Hassan Whiteside and Skal Labissiere. So where exactly does this leave the Blazers and their hopes of at least returning to the Western Conference Finals?
The team is, obviously, in need of big man help and fast. At the moment, Anthony Tolliver — picked up to play sparse minutes off the bench and provide the occasional offensive outlet — is the team’s starting power forward. He is serviceable on defense around the perimeter, but at 6’8” is an easy mismatch for opposing PFs with more size and skill. He is not a long term solution for the rest of the season. And most of the available big men, Joakim Noah and Kennith Faried, don’t fit the style of play that the Blazers currently utilize. The Blazers need a stretch-4 who can operate out of the short pick-and-roll while still being a defensive presence.
December 15th is the first opportunity that teams will be able to trade away most free-agent signings made during the offseason and you better believe that the Blazers will be making some phone calls. But I also don’t believe that the right player will actually become available to them until right around the All-Star break, when he is eligible to be moved. Golden State is going through its own rough patch right now and has been fielding a roster of names that almost nobody could pick out of a lineup. If they keep trending down towards the upper part of the draft lottery, I would expect them to make a move around the deadline and ship off their most tradeable asset for some dead money this upcoming offseason — Draymond Green.
Just something to keep an eye on while the Blazers try and shoulder the load without Zach Collins.