Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Portland Trailblazers

Portland Trailblazers Season preview

Projected starting line-up

G Jarrett Jack
G Brandon Roy
F Travis Outlaw
F Channing Frye
C LaMarcus Aldridge

Steve Blake
Martell Webster
Sergio Rodriguez
James Jones

Last year
After spending a few years as the Portland Jailblazers, the franchise began it's move towards respectability, at least in the public relations department. Zach Randolph was still around for the year, though Portland was able to find a dance partner to take Sebastian Telfair off their hands. Most importantly, the team got two very talented players in the 2006 draft with Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Roy in particular had a very strong year for the Blazers. After missing about a month due to injury, he had quickly become a fan favorite as the city got behind the ROY for ROY campaign. And Roy's numbers back up his claim for that award. Combined with the 20-10 play of Zach Randolph, the young team was able to get more then a few victories during the year. Finishing the season with a record of 32-50, they won 11 more games then the previous season. The only thing questionable was the moves they made at the center position, with the re-signing of Joel Przybilla followed by the signing of former all-star Jamaal Magloire. Not only did both of these players receive inconsistent time on the court, Aldridge also starting more then a few games at center during the season. With the lack of consistent roles for these 3 players, the center position was the major liability for this team. Of course, as we all know, that is not a problem any more in the upcoming future.

Off season
Drafted Greg Oden
Traded Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau and Fred Jones for Channing Frye and Steve Francis and a 3 million trade exception
Waived Steve Francis
Traded a 3 million trade exception and cash for James Jones and 24th pick Rudy Fernandez
Signed Steve Blake

The major victory for Portland this off-season was the way the balls dropped in their favor during the lottery selection. The major question then became do they select Oden or Durant, although the reality was that Portland always knew who they were going to select. Since all-star caliber centers are a dime a dozen these days, and with the major weakness for Portland being that position, the drama behind the selection was minimum. That being said, the rivery is now set-up between Portland and Seattle to see who can make it first to the championship. If Seattle goes further with Durant, no matter how successful Portland will be with Oden, the 2007 draft will be viewed in a negative light for this franchise. Getting rid of Randolph was a must if Portland wanted to be successful. No team lead by the "me first" attitude of Randolph would ever get very far, and if they wanted to get full value out of Oden, then Randolph had to go. Frye is a nice player, although Steve Francis was just involved for the numbers. They don't need nor want Francis involved with this team. Steve Blake is a solid player making a return to the team that he played on when he stepped up and started to produce.

The blow of all blows came when Oden went down and out for the season. He is young and should come back strong, but it does push his progress back a year. But even if he did play this season, expecting big things from this team so early is unfair. Aldridge and Roy learned quite a bit last year thanks to the fact that the team didn't completely suck and was able to get 30 plus wins under the belts for the youngsters. And if Portland was in the east, I could easily see them getting that 7th or 8th spot. But they are not in the east. It was going to be very challenging for them to make the playoffs this season with Oden, now with out him it seems like a foregone conclusion that Portland will have some lottery balls next year. The depth is an issue, as nice as players like Webster and Jack and Blake and Outlaw are, they will get eaten alive by most teams when it matters. I don't doubt that stronger teams step up when the opponents are at equal level, but when the opponent is a sub 500 team, the effort is more just to win, not to make a statement. Does Detroit really care that Zach Randolph was getting 20-10 against them when Portland had no chance of winning the game? Detroit though does care about Tim Duncan or Chris Bosh or Garnett getting numbers cause those players are on teams who have a shot of winning. My point is, does Portland have the talent to be able to step up when the opposition does. They do have a few guys who can...but not as many as they need to get into the playoffs.

What to watch for
1) Roy hitting the wall - Will he be the leader Portland needs this season, or will he hit the rookie wall in his second season?
2) LaMarcus Aldridge stepping up - He had a nice rookie year, and with no Oden and no Randolph, it will be Aldridge who will be looked at to own the inside.
3)Building the foundation - With Oden coming back next year, plus they will likely get a high pick in the draft, they need to continue to build the foundation for a solid championship contender.

Well, losing Oden hurt. It pushes everything back a season. That being said, with another high draft pick in the mix, this team can make moves next summer to help quicken the pace towards gold.

Between 21 and 25 wins this season with a 13th place finish in the West

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