Portland had a dramatic decline in health during the 2016-17 season. After losing the second fewest total games to injury during the 2015-16 campaign, Portland dropped to the bottom five with 173 games lost. However, their overall numbers were significantly weighed down by one man, center Festus Ezeli.
Ezeli never suited up for the team after signing a two-year $15.2 million contract. The Trail Blazers anticipated the deal would be a low-risk, high-reward signing after other teams spent extravagantly on big men in the summer of 2016. However, Ezeli underwent surgery in March and was waived in the offseason.
On the plus side, Ezeli’s absence paved the way for Portland’s acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic revitalized the team and helped secure the team’s fourth straight postseason appearance. Unfortunately, injuries would once again rear their ugly head as Nurkic suffered a fractured fibula late in the season and would remain limited in the postseason.
Despite the setback, head athletic trainer Geoff Clark and Director of Health and Player Performance Chris Stackpole remain one of the most well-respected units in the NBA. The duo has turned around a franchise once synonymous with injury and been a driving force behind Portland’s recent success. Look for the Trail Blazers to remain relevant in the crowded Western Conference with their medical staff diligently working to maintain player health.