Dame and CJ lead the way as the pillars of the Blazers culture - Wesley Hitt / Getty Images
The Portland Trail Blazers have drastically altered last seasons roster, a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals by making a number of significant moves.
A team that last season, many of the players on the team spoke about the cohesion and togetherness of the team. These elements played a role in everything the Blazers culture had been built on all season long and fans saw firsthand the importance of chemistry and what it can do on the basketball court.
Blazer fans are fully aware of two of the players that remain on this Blazers roster, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. As a fan, you might be worried about the team chemistry and culture when losing seven players from a team that won 53 games last season. Rest assured that the two pillars of this team are still in Portland and looking to build on last year.
Last year’s Blazers team had friendships that were genuine. Everyone rooted for each other’s success and everyone bought into their role on the roster for the benefit of the team. President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has always targeted high character guys. With cornerstones like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, it makes it easier to take a chance on guys who either might be a risk or have built up a poor reputation with their fanbase.
It’s been reported by Jason Quick of the Athletic, recently signed forward Mario Hezonja was practically neighbors at a time while Blazers center Jusuif Nurkic and Hezonja were playing for a club team in Croatia. “That’s my brother, nothing more to say,” Hezonja said of his relationship with Nurkic.
For fit, Hezonja says he sees himself fitting into “that kind of ET role where he was the second ball-handling guy.” The Blazers have historically targeted guys with specific roles in mind. Hezonja comes to an environment where there is now a need for his skill set and a close friend to help him get acclimated.
The Trail Blazers also made the bold but calculated risk of trading Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless in a four-team deal that sent Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers. With an obvious hole to fill at the center position while the Blazers wait for Nurkic to return from his leg injury. Whiteside is a starting-caliber center who after being maxed by Miami three years ago, was ready to move on.
Whiteside comes to Portland with a bit of a reputation of being more worried about padding his personal stats than doing the things that are needed to win games. He now steps into a locker-room with expectations of sacrificing personal goals for the team’s success. As expected, Lillard doesn’t see Whiteside as a potential issue.
As the leader of the team, one would expect Dame has already spoken with Whiteside. “I’ve known him for a while, we’ve been around each other, I’ve already had the conversation that, when you mad, the game is not going your way, if somebody do something, the coach say something to you, whatever he say, me and you gonna have to communicate, we have to be able to talk and he said ‘ok’ so, we’ve pretty much had that conversation already,” Lillard said at a press conference on July sixth to officially announce his $196 million super-max extension.
“Obviously, you look around at what’s happening for other teams – the Clippers, the Lakers, Brooklyn – and it jumps off the page. But I think we got better as well,” Lillard said. It’s hard to argue when you think that just two weeks ago most Blazer fans were wondering who would be the starting center opening night.
Adding Kent Bazemore while managing to also retain Rodney Hood has certainly given the shooting the Blazers wing rotation has needed for the past few seasons. Hood said in his press conference on the same day as Lillard’s that things like on-court fit, fit within the community and comfort helped play a role in deciding to stay in Portland. He also said he turned down offers worth more money to stay in Portland. “As long as you happy man, that goes a long way in this league. You fit somewhere and your family is welcome, it goes a long way and it’s going to show on the court how comfortable you are,” Hood said.
Although the Blazers will be missing seven players from a roster that went to the Western Conference Finals, we still see the same culture that players like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have established here in Portland. That togetherness as expected should translate on the court come October. Adding Whiteside significantly helps the Blazers compete while we all wait for Jusuf Nurkic to get healthy and back to what we know as the Bosnian Beast. As the leader of this team, Damian Lillard expects every player to show up ready to work every day, just as he does. That makes it much easier on guys with those question marks. “Damian Lillard is the best thing to happen to my life.” As Nurkic put it.
Damian Lillard is the leader all Blazer fans can count on.