On the eve of training camp, the Portland Trail Blazers tipped off the new season with an annual rite of passage Monday, media day at the Moda Center.
Following a .500 record, an eighth seed and a first-round ouster after being swept by the eventual world champs from Golden State, how might these Blazers fit in amongst the super-powers in the Western Conference?
“I don’t want to talk about the other conference, but clearly I wouldn’t mind shifting over to Portland, Maine for the next seven months, sixth-year general manager Neil Olshey said.
The Portland on the west coast has been home to a playoff team that has been pushed out of the playoffs in the first or second round four seasons in a row.
“We have to understand what we’ve done the last two years,” sixth-year head coach Terry Stotts said. “What we’ve done has been remarkable after January and has been disappointing up to January.”
The new version of the Blazers expects a whole lot more in a rough and tumble West. While star Damian Lillard would have like to have brought Carmelo Anthony to town, he will now have to face him instead.
”After those top 3 teams, it can fall anywhere and that’s where we want to be, right in there,” Lillard said Monday. “I thought I went after him pretty hard. A lot of teams in the West now are going after guys and just adding more and more firepower. Obviously, we believe in what we have but the more firepower we can have we’ll have a better chance to compete.”
The Melo recruitment may have been all for not, but the NBA’s best back-court duo outside of Oakland is chasing respect in a loaded conference and northwest division.
“We need to be competitive, we need to have a chip on our shoulder, we need to be accountable for our actions, our words and our preparation each day,” C. J. McCollum said. “Everybody has gotten better in the Western Conference, especially in our division. There aren’t going to be any easy nights.”
The Blazers’ fortunes changed for the better a season ago after the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic. For 20 games pre-leg fracture, Nurk looked like the center of the future. A slimmed down Bosnian beast is looking less beastly in the final year of his contract.
“It sounds crazy, 34 pounds, but I am still 270 so I am still a strong dude,” he reassured reporters Monday.
While the floor at the Moda Center is ice now, the hardwood will be down for Sunday’s free Fan Fest at 1:00 p.m. The preseason opener then comes against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night.
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