Neil Olshey on bench

Portland Trail Blazers have put themselves in position to challenge the Lakers

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Injuries ruined the Portland Trail Blazers’ hopes in 2019/20. This offseason was not one for overhaul, but an opportunity to enhance a roster which went on a run in the bubble to snatch the final playoff spot.

Free agency was not their place. Big contracts for Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have taken the Blazers out of free agent running for a long time. The draft was unlikely to provide them with players who could help them win in 2021. Trades were the priority, and Portland quickly landed one of the most desirable players in the NBA in Robert Covington.

Signings of Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter followed. Carmelo Anthony returned to the Blazers, looking to build on what was a nice bounce back story in 2020/21. Neil Olshey didn’t do anything wild, but he put good pieces around his dynamic backcourt, he got strong supplementary pieces on the wing and to backup Nurkic.

Zach Collins’ injury, and the uncertainty over when he’ll be able to return, is less of a worry with Covington on board. Nassir Little, Gary Trent Jr and Anfernee Simons provide the upside.

Stotts has options

Terry Stotts has flexibility on this roster. They can go small and return Covington to the five – where he spent much of his time with Houston – or they can run line-ups with Collins and Nurkic. Stotts may test Nurkic and Kanter together in the frontcourt, too, after giving Hassan Whiteside considerable minutes alongside Nurkic in the bubble.


Covington improves a defence which ranked 28th in the NBA last season (even worse than Atlanta), but this is still an offence-first roster. It would be a surprise to see them in the top half of the league on defence. If they are, they are going to be putting serious pressure on the Lakers and Clippers atop the Western Conference.

Stotts can put together switchable line-ups with Collins, Covington and Jones. Trent is a hustling defender. They can space the floor and overload the opponents with shooting if they want to put Collins at the five with Covington and Trent in the forward spots.

It’s become NBA routine to throw adjectives at the wall to describe how strong the West is. So many teams have improved this offseason, but few, if any, have improved as much as Portland have.

The Los Angeles teams are a cut above. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blazers as best of the rest after what has been a perfect offseason from Olshey.

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