It’s pretty safe to say that last year didn’t go quite as planned for the Portland Trail Blazers. Not that they should have made the playoffs, – especially with the bench that they had – but ending the year on a 13 game losing streak is pretty brutal.
Now there were some bright signs; Damian Lillard was spectacular, winning Rookie of the Year, Nic Batum put in his best season to date, and LaMarcus Aldridge was solid as ever. The shortcomings for the Blazers weren’t their core guys. Sure, it isn’t a group that will be contending for titles, but it’s a pretty good group, especially considering that Lillard will definitely improve, and Batum will likely do so as well.
In order to shore up their abysmal bench, Neil Olshey and company made a number of great moves, arguably putting together the best offseason of any team in the league save the Houston Rockets. They added Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, Mo Williams, Dorrell Wright, and Earl Watson through free agency and C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe in the draft. Robin Lopez will likely take over the starting center role, but the others will combine with Myers Leonard and the few stragglers left behind from last year’s reserves to form a very solid second unit.
Just to regroup and set everything straight their roster looks like this (projected starters in bold):
PG: Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, Earl Watson
SG: Wes Matthews, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe
SF: Nic Batum, Dorrell Wright, Victor Claver, Trill Barton
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Thomas Robinson
C: Robin Lopez, Myers Leonard, Joel Freeland
After looking it over a few times, it becomes clear that this really isn’t a half-bad team. But in the loaded Western Conference, that probably won’t be enough. Looking at last year’s playoff teams (Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver, LAC, Memphis, Golden State, LAL, Houston), there seems to be only one, maybe two spots available. The Lakers are almost certainly out of the playoff hunt this year, but the Nuggets are the only other team that could possibly fall out of the top eight. Assuming the Nuggets still make it, that leaves four teams (Portland, Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas) fighting for one spot.
It should be an exciting race for that final playoff spot (and likely the right to be swept by Oklahoma City or whoever gets the number one seed) between those four. New Orleans will remain a mystery until we see how the new pieces fit together, but both Dallas and Minnesota seem to have an upper hand on Portland. Once again, the fans at the
Rose Garden Moda Center will have to wait yet another year to see the team’s first playoff series victory since 2000.