Over the past decade, we have seen three different eras of Portland Trail Blazers Basketball. There was the LaMarcus Aldridge era, which ended when he and others departed after the 2014-15 season. The next era was defined by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, a duo who, under Terry Stotts, became one of the best backcourts in the NBA. And on Wednesday, the third, yet-to-be-determined era begins under first-year head coach Chauncey Billups. Lillard and McCollum, along with Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, and Norman Powell, will define much of this new era, but it’s the addition of Billups, a coach who has promised a more aggressive and effective style of play on defense and a more varied and decentralized approach on offense, that most differentiate this new era from the two before it.
The beginning of the season looks like it could be a little rocky. Portland has the most difficult first quarter of the season by some accounts — amongst other things, they play the Suns, Clippers, and Nuggets twice in the first month of the season — and have been limited in what they could do during training camp due to injuries. And while the result of their 0-4 preseason is inconsequential, at times it seemed as though they were making little progress in executing Billups’ vision.
“I’ve talked a lot in the preseason about us just kind of being realistic about where we are,” said Billups. “I mean, we’re trying to change things, some ways that we do things. There’s a process that comes with that. You look at our preseason and obviously, in the preseason you don’t care about the results, you care about if you’re making progress. There’s some time when we were making progress and there’s some times when we were taking steps back, and you’ve got to expect some of that as you’re trying to change habits.”
“We’re under a completely different coaching staff, we’re learning a completely different system and we’re trying to change habits,” said Damian Lillard. “When you’re trying to change habits you have a lot of bumps in the road, especially when you’ve been one way for so long.”
For Lillard, there has been speculation on him leaving Portland if the Trail Blazers start off rocky. Though on Tuesday, he confirmed his loyalty to RipCity:
“I’m not leaving Portland,” said Lillard after the final practice before Wednesday’s season opener. “I want to be a part of Chauncey’s success, you know what I’m saying? I take pride in being a part of his success as a coach. We developed a great relationship even before he became my coach and even deeper now that we sit and talk every day. We talk through text, on the phone, whatever, every day. I want to be a part of his success. When I say that I don’t expect all times to be great times. Adversity is going to hit, it’s going to be some tough times. So if it starts off rocky or if it starts off in a struggle I wouldn’t be happy about it, nobody would. But I’m not going to jump ship and bail out when that happens. It’s an easy thing and a popular thing for people to say but it’s not gonna happen.”
The Trail Blazers begin the era with Billups as head coach on Wednesday and there is a chance that the era leads to success. Their 2021 Opening Night starting five was one of the best lineups in the NBA last season, Anfernee Simons has looked as though he’s primed to make a jump in his production, they’ve bolstered their bench with the likes of Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller, they’ll be playing this season in front of a full Moda Center crowd for the first time since March of 2020 and even incremental improvements on the defensive end would go a long way toward improving on the 42-30 record they put up last season.
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