The Portland Trail Blazers are 7-6 after a loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, 126-109, a mark that drops them to No. 9 in the Western Conference standings.
That’s not good enough for star guard Damian Lillard. And who can blame him?
Speaking with reporters after the game in Texas, Lillard pointed out what many around the conference have been thinking lately.
After an astonishing 44-38 record in 2015-16, the Trail Blazers have fallen a bit flat this season. They have re-signed Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless, CJ McCollum, and Meyers Leonard in the last 12 months. Portland GM Neil Olshey also added Evan Turner as his main offseason signing to go with Festus Ezeli, the latter of which has not yet played a game this year.
The experiment has gone poorly.
Turner has looked unsettled on both offense and defense, his strengths seemingly incongruous with coach Terry Stotts’ flow offense.
The same can be said for Crabbe and Harkless, who despite having been in the Blazers system have not yet improved enough to warrant their latest contracts. Leonard, meanwhile, has looked weak as he comes back from shoulder surgery and not ready for heavy lifting down low.
Still, there’s some optimism in the Blazers locker room.
The answer isn’t immediately apparent in Portland. Al-Farouq Aminu is out with a calf injury for three weeks, but has not looked good — especially at the offensive end — compared to last season. The Blazers are one of the poorest rebounding teams in the NBA, and their defensive rating has shot up above 110, their highest as a franchise since 2005-06. Their core is essentially set, and there’s not likely to be a trade suitor for Turner or any other underperforming player.
Lillard is correct: the Blazers do sort of suck. Whether that continues, I’m not so sure. Stotts has been a Coach of the Year candidate in the past, and has spun wheat into gold before.
But Portland needs to figure it out sooner than later, and they’re in a tight spot roster-wise. Any improvement is going to have to come from within as the rest of the Western Conference improves.