I’m not quite sure how Portland went from “lost four starters in one summer” to “one star away from legitimate contention,” but here we are.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the foundation of an offense that’s ready to win the championship right now. They finished seventh in the NBA in points per possession and should only get better as that duo gains more chemistry together. Put any three dunderheads with them and Portland will score well enough.
Defense is the problem. Lillard and McCollum might as well be a pair of eager leprechauns on that end of the floor. They’re too small to do much of anything, and while there’s quite a philosophical argument to be had about whether it’s even possible to win a championship with that sort of backcourt, for now we know Portland plans to move forward with it so we just have to assume that every other move they make will be built to support it.
Few defensive players can make enough of an impact to offset the losses of that backcourt. Hassan Whiteside might be one of them. He’s rough around the edges. He misses rotations to chase blocks far too often for anyone’s tastes, but his background suggests he has plenty of room to grow. He played college ball at Marshall and then only 19 NBA games before joining the Heat. Those 19 NBA games were for the Kings, so they don’t even count. He’s really only had two years of coaching. He’s going to get even better.
Even if he doesn’t, he already blocks four shots per game. No other player in basketball comes close. The amount of surplus value that adds in shots altered and overall fear among opposing players to attack the basket is priceless. He might be the one center in basketball, besides offensively-illiterate Rudy Gobert, who makes Portland’s backcourt viable. Who cares if Klay Thompson wants to post up McCollum, he’s not getting easy layups with Whiteside looming.
Portland is going to chase Whiteside, that’s a given, but whether or not he comes is going to largely depend on the recruiting process. If Miami offers him the max from Day 1, he’s probably staying. It’s more money and it’s free of state income taxes.
But if they feel the need to chase Kevin Durant, which I suspect they will, Whiteside will look elsewhere. How is he going to feel when Portland recruits him heavily while Miami spends its time elsewhere? He went to Marshall and was a second round pick, he’s going to be so flattered by the love Portland gives him that he’ll sign on the spot.
Besides, we heard enough leaks during the regular season about Whiteside not fitting into the Miami culture that losing him probably wouldn’t bother them much anyway. Portland’s culture seems like a better fit. Damian Lillard has drawn rave reviews as a leader, but the Blazers don’t come with the same dogmatic discipline and conditioning rules Miami does. It’s a more relaxing atmosphere, better for younger players who want to enjoy NBA life.
Miami should just re-sign Whiteside and be done with it, but they won’t. Pat Riley’s eyes are bigger than his stomach. Once they start throwing their money around elsewhere, Portland is going to come in and steal him away.
Likely Contract: Four Years, Max