Over these past two weeks, I have been fortunate enough to attend two Blazers road games. For those who don’t know, I live in Los Angeles, so the only time I really get to attend a game is when I am back in Portland for the holidays. However, thanks to some generous/wealthy relatives, I had the opportunity to go see the Blazers play at the Chase Center in San Francisco last Monday. And the seats were incredible. Before Monday’s game, I had never sat below the 300 level, so it was quite a change to be sitting 7 rows up from the court. My seat, at the very least, was worth a grand. When we first sat down, all I could think was “I probably won’t experience something like this again until my 30s… at the earliest.” Fast forward three nights later and I was sitting in a $10 seat at the Clippers game. And I’m pretty sure it was the third to last row in the Staples Center. The quick decline in quality from one arena experience to the other was a pretty good metaphor for life and how you can get humbled real quick. One minute you’re in the Budweiser sweet at the brand new Chase Arena, and the next you’re sitting in the nosebleeds with two angry Mexicans arguing behind you the whole game.
Above all, my biggest takeaway from this whole experience is that it’s really shitty how the Warriors decided to move to San Francisco. Just looking around the arena I thought, “Man oh man, look at all these tech heads.” Everyone was coming from work, either finishing up writing some code or closing a deal. I probably saw more blue suits than Steph Curry jerseys. And there were easily 15,000 pairs of airpods in the stadium. For anyone in the Bay Area, claiming that the Warriors have “real fans,” the move to San Francisco certainly hasn’t helped their case.
But back to the point of this article, I got to see the Blazers twice last week, and both games consisted of pretty pathetic performances for Portland. Aside from Damian Lillard, and flashes of C.J. and Anfernee, the offense was non-existent in both games. I have a not-so-hot take that probably won’t surprise those who actually watch the Blazers: Mario Hezonja doesn’t deserve to be in the NBA. Yup, I said it. And no, I haven’t looked at his season stats, but his performance against the Clippers was the ugliest things I have seen on a basketball court. And I’ve seen some pretty ugly things on a basketball court. (LeBron’s hairline before the Rogaine was a tough scene). I was at the game with a few coworkers and they were just giving me shit the whole night about “Super” Mario. The Croatian shot 1 of 9 with a few of those missed shots being airballs. And more notable was his late game travel that played a big part in us losing the game. The dude traveled literally a second after receiving an inbound pass. Seriously, give me anybody from the G league over this guy. And I’m not saying I could do any better, but I probably couldn’t do any worse.
The other pain point for the Blazers is Hassan Whiteside. I wasn’t happy when we traded for him, and so far Hassan hasn’t done anything to change my negative opinion of him. This dude has all the talent in the world and yet doesn’t show any type of effort. I wrote an article last year, basically criticizing the types of players who quit on their team after getting paid. My piece included a thick paragraph about Whiteside, because we all saw how he gave up on the Heat after he got his contract. As a fan, it’s frustrating to watch because we know that this man is capable of doing so much more on the court. It was Hassan’s work ethic that got him out of the G League, and ended up getting him giant contract. Now that he has $98 million, he doesn’t feel the need to work. Shaq and Chuck had a hilarious segment on TNT, basically roasting Whiteside for not giving any effort during the Clippers game. And they were right to do so. We need more effort from Hassan.
Aside from all the negativity, if there’s anything I picked up from these two games, it’s that Damian Lillard is incredible. Dolla had 39 in the loss to Golden State, but it’s not even the numbers that amazed me about Lillard. To flex one more time, I was sitting pretty close to the court, so I got a clear view of how crafty Dame is off the dribble. You don’t realize how fast these players move until you get to see a game up-close and in person. Along with the speed, Dame also has unlimited range, and to top it off, his finishing at the rim is next level. I’d argue that he finishes better than any other guard in the league besides maybe Kyrie. Lillard is just fearless, and he’ll go up against any big man in the paint, knowing he has the athleticism to double clutch and go up and under. Once again, for those who watch Blazer games consistently, I might be stating the obvious when talking about how great Dame is, but seeing his game up close was just a completely different experience for me.
Another positive for the Blazers is Anfernee Simons. This dude is a future all-star and he has the potential to do great things in the league. Simons can shoot well, more importantly, he can create his own shot, and he’s also just explosive as hell. He’s one of the few guys in the league who I’ve seen get his head above the rim consistently on dunk attempts. For the Blazers, Ant serves as a great backup for now, but it should be interesting to see how Portland manages the three guards situation in the near future. My guess is that one of the three guys (Dame, Ant, or C.J.) will eventually get traded. Portland has needed a star Forward for quite some time, and it’s not looking like they will get one unless they give away some major pieces. As much as I love Dame and C.J., we all know that those two alone aren’t enough to win a championship, as we saw in last year’s Western Conference Finals. A good defensive team like the Clippers or last year’s Warriors can just contain the two of them, forcing our less talented players to try and take over the game. Role players like Meyers Leonard and Evan Turner weren’t getting the job done last year, so we clearly still need that third option who can take over the game when needed.
And it was this missing third piece that likely pushed Portland to take a chance on Melo aka Mr. “I ain’t coming off the bench” Anthony. I like the pickup from Portland, mostly because they have nothing to lose from it. Worst case, if things aren’t working after a couple games, we can just give Melo the Houston treatment. But Portland has been desperate for a third scoring threat for quite some time now. I think a Wet Floor sign might be a better forward than Hezonja, so Melo is certainly a step up.
In the offseason there were talks of trying to get Kevin Love, or another all-star caliber Forward in exchange for C.J. or Dame. However, it’s looking like the Blazers aren’t willing to take that big of a gamble just yet. Instead, Portland is hoping they can get something out of nothing with this Carmelo acquisition. This is their version of a get rich quick scheme. The situation is comparable to a broke dude showing up to a pawn shop and paying eight bucks for an ancient artifact, hoping that it turns out to be worth millions. And I guess Melo is the ancient artifact in this scenario. I mean, he is pretty old. But who knows, maybe Portland can hit the jackpot with Melo. He’s been working hard over the summer, playing in a lot of scrimmages with other NBA stars. I can tell he still loves the sport, but I won’t be optimistic until I see him play well in actual NBA games. As we have seen from Hoodie Melo in the past, practices with no defense can make even the most mediocre players look elite.
Despite any of the doubts that I may have about Melo, I am genuinely rooting for him and I’m happy to see him back on the court again. Am I skeptical that he will be a good addition to our team? Yeah, I’m skeptical. But either way, I am rooting for him, and it’d be awesome to see him light it up in a Blazers uniform.
All in all, when it comes to evaluating the Blazers’ potential this season, there are things to be excited about, things to be nervous about, and things to be flat-out angry about. Regardless of how I feel about the start to this season, I can’t be too pessimistic knowing that Portland has Dame as their captain. In a press conference earlier this week, Dame told reporters, “We’ll figure it out. We always figure it out.” And that’s coming from a leader you can trust. A man who has delivered in the past.
Just looking through NBA Twitter and Instagram, there are a lot of people doubting the Blazers this year. Funny enough, most of these doubters are former Warrior fans who are now Laker fans. So this message is for all of the NBA bandwagoners: I wouldn’t count Portland out. Last year everyone called us a first round exit, and look what happened. We have Nurkic coming back for the second half of the season, and the young guns are only going to get more comfortable as the season progresses. We should be fine as long as Whiteside stays on the bench.