Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

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USATSI

The Portland Trail Blazers will start the regular season without Gary Payton II, as the team announced Thursday afternoon the guard will continue to be sidelined as he recovers from abdominal surgery. Payton underwent surgery in July to address a core muscle injury, and while the Blazers say his rehab continues to “progress well,” he’ll be out at least two weeks, when he’ll then be reevaluated. 

The Blazers are no strangers to dealing with an injury like this. All-Star guard Damian Lillard missed all but 29 games last season after undergoing abdominal surgery. Nassir Little also underwent a similar surgery in May, and was just cleared for five-on-five right before Portland’s first preseason game. That doesn’t mean Payton will miss a similar amount of time as his Portland teammates, but it is a string of bad luck that several Trail Blazers players are getting sidelined with the same, or similar, injuries. 

Payton signed a three-year, $26.1 million contract with the Blazers this summer after being a key role player in the Warriors’ run to another championship. He’s a defensive pest, which will certainly improve a Blazers team that has deployed a bottom-five defense in each of the last three seasons. Payton joins a retooled roster around Lillard, along with Jerami Grant, who was Portland’s big acquisition this offseason after sending several future draft picks to the Detroit Pistons in a trade to land him. Portland also re-signed rising star Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, the former of whom had a standout season last year with Lillard out.

The moves that Portland made this summer, coupled with a healthy Lillard, will be enough to be competitive in the Western Conference. However, the West is as deep as ever, and starting the season without Payton won’t be ideal as the Blazers try and get back to the playoffs.





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