Apr 29, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) hugs guard CJ McCollum (3) after defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 106-103 in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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Hey! ‘Member when Portland didn’t play well to start last year? Oh yeah, I ‘Member!
For all of the talk about Portland to start this year, we’re still (technically) on pace to beat last year’s record. That’s a fact.
In what seemed like a rebuilding year for Portland, the Blazers ended the first two months of the season at 14-20. Everyone was writing them off as a team that won’t make the playoffs and has a few years before making any progress. Fast forward to the end of the season, where Portland earns 44 wins and a second round birth.
So why’s the media (myself included) asking for change when we’re technically better than last year? If there’s anything that last year taught us it’s to never doubt this team. The same group of guys that banded together and shocked the NBA not even seven months ago.
There is a key difference though, and it’s why we don’t pass the eye test. Hint: It’s not Evan Turner.
Nov 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA: New Orleans Pelicans forward Terrence Jones (9) drives to the basket on Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) during the first quarter of the game at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Portland’s Money is Tied to Bench Players
If you look at the situation in the locker room this year compared to last year, the differences are pretty remarkable. Last year we had a lovable group of misfits that shined in their new opportunity. Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless were the surprises of the season. All four of them won over Rip City with their hustle and heart. There’s no way we make the second round without strong contributions from all four players.
And yet, only Harkless got a new contract this summer, and it was a steal of a deal in all honesty. The other three weren’t up for new contracts, I get that, but it’s obviously affected the team.
Instead, our 2nd-4th highest paid players this year come off the bench and have been disappointing. Turner and Allen Crabbe rank 2nd and 3rd in payroll. Despite some recent good showings from Turner, neither player has had a moment where fans are grateful to have them. Throw in Meyers Leonard with the fourth highest salary and now we’re questioning everything. The reasoning has to be Portland’s recent bench struggles, but this year’s play hasn’t come close to the paycheck.
It’s obvious that the team’s money isn’t set up with the right people. It takes a very mature and connected team to overcome a constant mental obstacle like that. It’s easy to do the math and realize that if Portland wants this core, they won’t be able to afford it. Especially once the C.J. McCollum contract kicks in next year.
The main difference between last year and this year is money. Hopefully when 2017 comes around, Portland can focus on basketball and where they need to be in order to make the playoffs. The Blazers need to overcome all of the outside distractions (this article included) and just focus on basketball. If they do that, then I still believe we can get better.