It seems like yesterday that the Portland Trail Blazers were a 48-win team on the rise. What happened?
Well, the Blazers looked like a team without direction last year. Apart from LaMarcus Aldridge, virtually nobody on their roster lived up to expectations.
Head coach Nate McMillan was fired in March and the team bumbled it's way to a dissapointing 28-38 record and was never a serious threat in the playoff race.
Forward Momentum - LaMarcus Aldridge is a bona fide All-Star. He is one of the best offensive power fowards in the NBA at this point. He, along with jack of all trades wingman Nicolas Batum, gives the Blazers a fairly potent one-two punch from the forward slots.
Carrying The Load
LaMarcus Aldridge is the cornerstone of the Trail Blazers rebuilding process.
Young Talent - Damian Lillard gets most of the attention among Blazers rookies having won the starting point guard job and earning summer league co-MVP honours, and rightly so. But he's not the only first year to keep an eye on. Meyers Leonard is very long and athletic with a developing offensive game. His physical tools should make him a solid interior defender and he could very well become the Blazers' center of the future. Leonard and Lillard already appear to have forged a great relationship and could be a great one-two punch down the road.
Shallow Waters - There is virtually no depth on the Blazers roster. Head coach Terry Stotts has no choice but to throw his young unproven players like Lillard and Leonard to the wolves and hope they produce. After the rookies, Aldridge and Batum things fall off fairly quickly. J.J. Hickson could bounce back. Wesley Matthews is a solid two but after that who else is there? Nolan Smith? Jared Jeffries? Luke Babbitt? Ronnie Price? Not pretty.
Chemistry - With so many new faces it's hard to envision the Blazers gelling early in the season. There is very little continuity on this team and it is going to take time for everyone to get used to one another.
Get ready for the season with the latest from TSN.ca.
The Trail Blazers have a star but lack a solid supporting cast.
LaMarcus Aldridge checks in at 13th overall with good scoring, rebounding and percentage prospects.
Getting Defensive - The Blazers weren't a very good defensive team a year ago allowing opponents to shoot 46.5 percent from the field, the fifth-highest percentage in the NBA. They also struggled to rebound the ball finishing 25th in the league. And there is a strong possibility they will be worse in both categories this year.
X Factor: Nicolas Batum
The Trail Blazers forked over some pretty big money to match the Timberwolves offer sheet for Batum. Now it's up to the fifth-year forward to show he's worth $46.4 million for four years. He has been solid so far in his career but the Blazers need him to step up and shoulder more of the load, especially in scoring, to earn that money. He is still young though and does actually have the potential to live up to the big contract.
What to Expect
LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to produce like the All-Star he is. But after that, even if Batum lives up to his contract, this is a team that is relying on a rookie point to lead them. There will be some good moments thanks to the young talent but there will also be alot of struggles and the Trail Blazers lack of depth will be exposed over the course of the season. A lottery finish seems inevitable but this year is more about player development anyway.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
Evaluating the Blazers offseason comes almost entirely down to how you view Nicolas Batum and his future as a player.
He's never posted better than a 17.3 PER and could never secure more than 31.5 minutes per game, which after four years makes one wonder about his star potential.
Portland matched his massive $46-million offer sheet, which shows great faith in him, but they also reportedly turned down Derrick Williams and a first round pick from Minnesota to not match, which might show a disconnect with reality in terms of Batum's upside.
Regardless of your opinion of Batum, though, snagging Damian Lillard in the draft looks like a tremendous get for a club that has long yearned for stability at the point guard position.