Trail Blazers look to upcoming season with changes across the board

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 6:28 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) – Change was the name of the fame for the Trail Blazers in 2021— a new coach, a new general manager and now new sidekicks for Damian Lillard who underwent season-ending core muscle surgery back in January.

FOX 12′s Nick Krupke was at Portland’s Media Day ahead of the 53rd season of NBA basketball in Rip City.

“Knowing that grit when we put the right talent on the roster, we think that is going to go a long way,” says Blazer GM Joe Cronin.

Ball is life and the Blazers hope more happy oxygen fills the gym during season two for head coach Chauncey Billups.

“It’s not wins and losses, none of those things, I just want us to be the most connected team in the league,” says Billups.

It’s sports cliché to say Damian Lillard feels better than ever but the 32-year-old married father of three is free again after core surgery more than nine months ago.

“Just being at home with my family -- felt like I got a small taste of retirement,” says Lillard.

Dame’s time is now in year 11, remaining loyal to Rip City with a royal bag and a four-year extension at $44 million per season.

“Being at home made me realize that when I am done and when this is really my life, I want to be able to look back and know that I experienced the top,” Lillard says.

When Lillard leads on the court and in salary with 35 percent of the cap, GM Cronin also bought in on the Bosnian Beast.

“I appreciate what it does and I am grateful the organization believes in me,” says Jusuf Nurkic.

Nurkic’s new deal, four years at $70 million Is high value if the big man stays in the game. The 28-year-old has been null and void for more than an NBA season and a half over the past three years.

“For me, the Blazers are more than a team and Portland and Oregon,” Nurkic says. “I know a lot of people be saying stuff out there but even when I finish career or even if this extension didn’t happen, I would always come back, have a place here and feel like home because it is.”

Anfernee Simons is a young king of the hill.

“Personally, I want to be an all-star,” Simons says.

23-year-old bulked-up Simons struck it rich with a $100 million deal to be the backcourt ticket to campaign on as CJ McCollum was moved along to the pelicans for Josh hart at last year’s trade deadline.

“We like to make plays for others and create a lot of attention on the ball so it’s going to be kind of a pick your poison type of deal,” Simons says.

Who’s new? Gary Payton II.

“It feels pretty good to just know that I am going to be here for few years and I can unpack my bag,” says Payton.

Oregon State alum Payton is second defense first just like his pops.

Starting forward Jerami Grant is now a Blazer like his dad Harvey.

“It’s come full circle and being able to play in the city that my dad played in and I was born in and we lived here, it’s a surreal feeling,” Grant says.

The 28-year-old is a versatile pivot who’s in the final years of his deal. Additional grinders hoping to push Portland towards a playoff return after missing out for the first time in nearly a decade are Josh Hart, Nassir Little and Justise Winslow.

“The way it looks, the way it feels, I feel like we are much closer to that,” says Lillard.

“When you beat us this year, you are going to earn it and I can live with that,” Billups says.

The 53rd NBA regular season home opener for Portland will be Friday, Oct. 21.