The fate of the NBA season remains unknown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After a tumultuous, and potentially completed season, the Portland Trail Blazers will be faced with difficult decisions this offseason.
The 2019-2020 campaign has not gone how Portland Trail Blazers fans had hoped. Now, there is concern the season will end with all NBA fans disappointed, as gameplay remains suspended indefinitely. If we truly are at the end of this year’s action, the Blazers begin a unique, seven month offseason, with much to consider. Here are three big questions for the franchise moving forward.
More Melo Magic?
Hinted at for several years, the prospect of the Portland Trail Blazers acquiring future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony was seemingly put to rest by Damian Lillard on the Joe Budden Podcast this past September, when he stated it simply was not happening:
No one could have predicted the series of unfortunate events that would lead a struggling Trail Blazers organization to reach out to Anthony. While Anthony may not have pulled the team from its struggles and into a playoff position, he certainly silenced critics who suggested he should simply hang up the sneakers for good.
Should he have played his final game this season, his future with the team is in question. Anthony wants to retire with Portland, as stated in an article by Portland Tribune journalist Kerry Eggers.
However, contracts and financial logistics will first need to be handled before we know if this could be a reality.
Should he stay, Melo has the opportunity to once again be an integral part of the roster. Assuming Rodney Hood is still recovering from injury at the start of the 2020-2021 season, Melo would be a terrific fit at the small forward position, with power forward Zach Collins and Center Jusuf Nurkić providing plenty of size in the post, allowing the veteran to flow more freely on the offensive side of play.
He will be 36 at the start of the year, meaning his minutes will only continue to reduce throughout the remainder of his career.
Still, as Portland attempts to build a championship caliber team, it would be an incredible comeback story to see Melo be a part of any deep runs that are to be had in the coming years.
Vets or youth?
Injuries plagued the Portland Trail Blazers this year, forcing the youngest members of the squad to step up and take much larger roles than anticipated for this season.
While second year guard Anfernee Simons predictably absorbed many of the minutes given to Seth Curry in the 2018-2019 campaign, the rise of Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little became necessary surprises during a difficult season.
Now with far more on court experience than they may have expected, the trio of Simons, Trent Jr., and Little, seem poised to become important components of Portland’s rotation for years to come.
With the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum era currently in its peak years, Portland must choose if they want to continue pursuing young players with upward potential, or established ones who can create an immediate impact.
Both 6’9” power forwards and with expiring contracts, their future with the franchise will likely be based upon the front office’s decisions regarding veterans like Trevor Ariza, Hassan Whiteside, and Carmelo Anthony.
Will Hassan Want to Stay?
When the Portland Trail Blazers traded Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard to the Miami Heat in exchange for Hassan Whiteside, it was unclear how Rip City fans would react. There was however, at least one person who was absolutely ecstatic about the move:
While the season has not played out the way Portland has hoped, fingers can hardly be pointed at Whiteside. Criticized at times for being a “stat chaser” in Miami, those complaints were entirely invalid this season, when big numbers from the big man were absolutely necessary.
Without much size throughout the roster, Whiteside needed to be an absolute force in the paint, and that he was. Leading the league in blocks while ranking second in rebounds, and sixth in field goal percentage, Whiteside provided an all around bully ball style of play, acting as the “workhorse” of the team.
While both Whiteside and Portland have seemed to enjoy his time on the team, his presence was always looked at as a one year pickup while Jusuf Nurkić recovered from his horrific leg injury.
Should the 2019-2020 season be over for good, it may be difficult for Portland’s front office to re-sign Whiteside without having the opportunity to see how he plays with both Zach Collins and Nurkić in rotation.
At 22 and 25 respectively, it is assumed Collins and Nurkić will remain Portland’s starting big men for years to come. This may raise concern for fans of the 30-year-old, as his maturity and attitude were notoriously called into question when he experienced minute cuts and role changes in Miami. Fortunately, no such problems seem to have arisen in Portland, where he has instead seemed like one of the most happy-go-lucky members of the roster.
In order for Whiteside to stick around, he must be willing to play less minutes and agree to a much smaller contract than he’s sure to be offered during this summer’s free agency period. Should he want to remain a Blazer, he has the potential to be a great long-term fit, providing Portland with an affable veteran presence as well as much needed defensive consistency.