Portland Trail Blazers Media Day 2022 has come and gone. Summaries of all the interviews are littered across the site like so much wrapping paper the day after Christmas. But what are we to make of it all? Was anything new, or different, revealed in the process? That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Media Day is always so fun. Call me stupid but I [get excited] every year. I’m ready for things to start and I stupidly believe that things are going to be different. But maybe this year they are! We have a whole new line up and I’m excited about it [Jerami] Grant and Gary Payton, Real veteran help! I need your impressions about Media Day and how you think it went. Are changes really here finally?
Yes, by definition! As you say, Jeremy Grant and Gary Payton II will play major roles. Don’t forget Anfernee Simons moving to the starting lineup and Josh Hart getting a full season (or at least as much as he’ll stay for) with the team. This is a different look, a whole new lineup, for sure.
As to what to make of it, the Blazers themselves clued you in by what they emphasized and what they chose not to talk about.
Several points were repeated throughout the interviews. They include:
Damian Lillard is back and feeling good. Praising Lillard and affirming his participation were near-ubiquitous among teammates. Part of that might be deference to Dame herself. When a superstar returns to your franchise—he never left, but we still remember the turmoil at this time last season, mollified for now by a huge contract extension—you acknowledge the king with gratitude. The players know that Dame makes the franchise relevant. They also know that his health is the basis of everything they’re trying to do as a team. That showed.
Excitement for young players was higher this season than it has been since Lillard and CJ McCollum were in their NBA infancy. Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, and Shaedon Sharpe got mentioned by people other than Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, and Shaedon Sharpe. The young players were even referencing each other. It feels like the Blazers are trying to refill the talent pipeline left impoverished during the Neil Olshey era. This theme resonated more loudly than scheme changes, veteran talent influx, or bold predictions. That’s something of a shock, given the high-profile off-season moves.
Flexibility—and its less-welcome cousin, uncertainty—were recurring themes. When players talked about the on-court product and rotations, they tended to highlight the multi-skilled nature of the roster. “I can play with him, or I can do that thing, and I can also bring this.” But other than the obvious trio of Lillard, Simons, and Jusuf Nurkic, nobody seemed to know exactly what they, or the team, would be doing This became evident particularly in Josh Hart’s interview, where he talked about his desire to start. It also showed among many of the same young players mentioned above, and in the veterans talking about those younger teammates. Not only is the rotation, as yet, un-set, you get the feeling that the Blazers themselves don’t know quite what they have.
That said, a sense of positivity reigned. Almost all interviewees were upbeat. They appeared to express genuine anticipation, even curiosity, over season and squad. The mood of the public-facing part of the organization appears to have lightened. They present more like a team, less like a couple of stars with mercenary veterans hired to play around them.
That positivity has limits, though. Notice what the interviewees did not talk about much, if at all: contention, championships, or even wins. The team appears to be leaning on style, personality, and entertainment for sure. “We’re going to have fun and people will enjoy watching us.” That’s probably true, but it’s also not what the Golden State Warriors are raising as seasonal aspirations.
The Blazers themselves seem to have an unspoken understanding that contending is too big a claim to make at this point. I’m sure all of them would claim it’s possible, but it’s not a cultural bedrock expectation yet. They’ll need to prove to themselves that they can win consistently before we see that change.
Overall, there’s reason to be intrigued by this new start. Your expectations of whether the changes will actually improve the win-loss total may need to stay in check until we, and they, have seen more.
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