After their delirious run to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Blazers set their sights on even loftier goals this year. But a wild offseason was a grim reminder of just how small championship windows can be and how extenuating circumstances often throw everything out of whack.
Portland had one of the deepest benches in the league last season, and their second unit was a big factor in their success. But much of that changed this summer for financial reasons, as Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless, Seth Curry, and others opted for more lucrative deals elsewhere.
In return, they got some size they’ve been lacking in recent years in Hassan Whiteside, swapped Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore, and rightfully turned their attention to the development of Zach Collins, who showed flashes of his immense potential in last year’s playoffs and who was poised to assume a much larger role moving forward. But after undergoing surgery this week to repair a dislocated shoulder, Collins will be forced to miss a significant chunk of the season as he recovers, with the Blazers announcing he will be reevaluated again in four months.
Collins was averaging nine points and four rebounds before his injury and had shown some progress with his outside shooting, converting threes at a clip of 42 percent through the first three games of the season and cementing himself as a formidable defensive presence on their front line.
The news of his lengthy absence certainly puts the Blazers in a bind. With Pau Gasol still out and Jusuf Nurkic sidelined indefinitely after his gruesome leg injury last spring, the Blazers are running out of options in the frontcourt. Right now, the only other rotation piece who is a true power forward is Skal Labissiere, a fourth-year player who has yet distinguish himself.
Portland’s lack of depth was glaring in their stunning loss to the badly-depleted but feisty Warriors on Tuesday night. Their biggest strength in terms of depth is in the backcourt and on the wing, so they’ll be forced to play small until other options present themselves. Given the way they’ve stumbled out of the gate, they figure to be active leading up to the trade deadline. Several names have been bandied around, such as Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Love, with the latter having a seemingly perennial connection in rumors to Porland even though he’s claimed he actually prefers to stay in Cleveland this season.
Still, the Blazers have plenty of assets that they can potentially use to package a deal and try to fill some of those glaring roster issues. But in the meantime, there aren’t any ready-made solutions. Whiteside will have to prop up their interior defense almost by himself as Labissiere adjusts to the suddenly increased expectations, and they’ll have to even further adjust the offense to better feature the small-ball lineups that will have to act as a stop-gap measure until further notice.
For a team with title aspirations, however lofty, entering the year, the reality right now is that they’re going to have to scrap to make the playoffs and hope that they get healthy at the right time.