Post by DiamondThief on Oct 24, 2015 23:23:31 GMT -8
They have called it a re-build, a re-tool and a plan "B."
Do not believe a word of it. The Trail Blazers off-season player turnover resulted in nothing less than a blow up. When you lose four starters, your would-be sixth man and four others over the course of a summer, there is no other term to describe it. This lip service means nothing.
Unlike most blow ups regarding professional sports teams, this one was not the fault of the organization nor its management, so to speak. These were decisions made by those starters, sans Nicolas Batum, who was traded on Draft Day Eve to Charlotte.
President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey claimed that LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez's fates as potential continuing Blazers. In truth, according to Olshey, it was all going to come down to the decision of Aldridge.
As has been well-documented on this site and among the BlazerNation, Aldridge made the decision to chase a championship with the San Antonio Spurs, while also being closer to his young sons who live in Texas; one of whom lives in San Antonio. Olshey said he found out at about 3 p.m. on July 3 that Aldridge had made his decision to join the Spurs. The signs had been coming. Forget that while everything was tied to Aldridge's decision for a second. The announcements of Matthews and Lopez's decisions to accept lucrative contracts with the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks, respectively, came a day before Aldridge's announcement.
In short, while it is not so much Olshey's fault that this blow up occurred, there is no way he could not have known that would be the likelihood of it happening.
After Aldridge, Matthews and Lopez left, and with Batum having been traded, nearly all the other free agent dominoes began to fall. Arron Afflalo joined Lopez in New York, Steve Blake was traded to the Brooklyn Nets (and later dealt by the Nets to the Detroit Pistons), Alonzo Gee penned a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, Joel Freeland signed to play in Russia, and Dorell Wright signed to play in China.
Amidst all of this, the team signed Damian Lillard to a contract extension which will keep him in the Rose City until at least the 2020-21 season. The move, essentially, solidified what the in-house Blazers media had been trying to do since Lillard was selected with the sixth pick in the NBA Draft in 2012; to make him the face of the franchise. Sure Aldridge had been the elder statesman and leader, but the in-house media had clearly made a concerted effort to make Lillard the face of the team.
If you are going to try and put together the pieces after a blow up, Lillard is not at all a bad place to start. He has won Rookie of the Year and been an all-star the past two seasons. He is 25 now and this is his team.
It is not as if we needed a refresher as to the off-season, but that is where this team is. It is now time to look at the future. What have we got?
We start with Lillard. No one has to tell you his pedigree. The impressive thing about this off-season is the bonding activities he has arranged for the team and its new players. They practiced and hung out in San Diego. They went to the beach and spent time together. As much as learning one another's habits on the court, Lillard led the charge to get the players to get to know one another off the court. Lillard surely felt the chemistry the team had over his first three years in the league. He endeavored to build that with the new team.
CJ MCCollum, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe are the major returning players, along with veteran center Chris Kaman.
McCollum, could turn out to be the Klay Thompson to Lillard's Stephen Curry (of the Golden St. Warriors). The duo play well together. McCollum is slated to be the back-up point guard, in addition to his shooting guard duties. The real benefit for McCollum, as well as Lillard, could be when they are on the court together. Either can take the ball up with the other running of the ball. Both can penetrate, hit the mid-range jumper and knock it down from three. McCollum missed the first half of his rookie season due to injury, then missed a chunk of last season as well. In the last third of last season, he made huge strides. He was arguably the most effective Blazer in the team's playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring a professional career-high 33 points in game 5. The sky is the limit for the third-year guard. Barring injury he could reach some of that sky this season.
Leonard is a lot more versatile than many think. In that playoff series against the Grizzlies, he was hitting threes, rebounding and did an extremely admirable job defending Marc Gasol, arguably the best center in the NBA. The real curious thing about Leonard is that when his three-point shooting improved, so did his rebounding and defense. It was almost as if all three were tied together. Crabbe was considered on the bubble during the summer, but in no way, shape or form should he have been. The team added a pair of small forwards, but the former Pac-12 Player of the Year was a stalwart defender last year, as well as an athletic court runner who can nail the three. The Blazers were 8-1 with Crabbe in the starting lineup last season.
It is almost a wonder as Olshey went to his "youth movement" that he brought back the veteran Kaman, who will be entering his 13 year in the league and is the only Blazer in his 30s. Looking deeper, it may not be all that difficult to figure it out. First, Kaman still has quite a bit to offer on the court. Second, he was a major positive mentoring influence on Leonard and the other young bigs the team last season. Presumably, He was brought back for the second year of his contract to continue to mentor Leonard and the other young bigs. Add to that, Blazers big man Assistant Coach Kim Hughes was fired by the team for making inappropriate comments regarding Aldridge's pending free agency decision prior to the instigation of the free agency period. Hughes had mentored the bigs. Now, Kaman could have an even more prominent role as essentially a player-coach.
Tim Frazier came out of the NBA Developmental League for the Blazers last 13 games last season, and proved himself to be a strong defender and distributor. with the D-League's Main Red Claws (ironically located in Portland), Frazier won Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year honors in the D-League last season. Frazier is a change-of-pace guy who, given McCollum's double duty at guard, could see some occasional minutes at the point.
There are some promising newcomers. Mason Plumlee has a couple of years under his belt where he toiled under Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett with the Brooklyn Nets. The 6'11" center from Duke is the penciled-in starter at center. He is athletic, a good rebounder and will provide some defense. Think of him as a replacement for Lopez. Ed Davis is a fierce defender and rebounder signed as a free agent. He likely will come off the bench, but see some substantial minutes.
Noah Vonleh was considered the big prize in the trade which sent Batum to the Charlotte Hornets. He is young, but showed a lot of fight and potential in Summer League and even some in training camp. He will hustle and show some promise, but he is still a work in progress. That said, the team will give him time to develop. As much as fans should be excited about Vonleh's potential, they should be excited about veteran guard Gerald Henderson, also brought over in the trade for Batum. Henderson is a solid defender and a good shooter who can attack the basket. He also has the potential to mentor some of the younger players in a similar way to Kaman.
Rookie guard Pat Connaughton may be the most athletic of the new arrivals. He possesses a 44" vertical leap and is loaded with hustle. He may not immediately crack the rotation.
Small forward may just be the most intriguing position on the Blazers roster, with three players in three circumstances competing for playing time and, perhaps, a starting role. Crabbe is the Blazer veteran at the position, heading into his third season. Al-Farouq Aminu will get his first serious crack at a starting role. He has been around the league for a few years and is known as a staunch defender and rebounder. There is no need to worry about hustle for the guy they call 'Rouq. Maurice Harkless is an interesting case. After being pushed aside by the Orlando Magic, the Blazers are looking for his energy and hustle, of which he showed plenty during Summer League and limited action in pre-season due to injury. This could be a career revival season for Harkless should he be able to take advantage of his opportunities.
Rounding out the roster are a pair of rookies in big man Cliff Alexander and wingman Luis Montero. The Blazers are said to see great potential in both, but both are raw and will need to earn every minute they will get.
Predictions have the Blazers winning anywhere between 21 to 41 games this season. Certainly, the 21 is too low. They could win 21 games this season against the Eastern Conference. Maybe not likely, but with how lopsided the two conferences are, it is not outside the realm of possibility. The 41 wins is probably a little optimistic.
Every player, team and fan wants to win. However, winning may not be the true barometer of success when it comes to evaluating this team. Fans should be prepared for a rough start. Probably a very rough start. The true measure of this team is how it finishes the season. We are looking for player development. We are looking for a team which plays together.
Watch this team in earnest at the beginning of the season and ask the following: Will these players be better at the mid point of the season?
Watch this team in earnest at the mid-point of the season and ask the following: Have these players become better players than at the beginning of the season?
The hope, of course, that the answers both would be "yes."
Are they more efficient? Have they cut down on turnovers and fouls? Have their shooting percentages improved over the course of the first half of the season? These are just some of the queries to keep in mind while following the team this year.
No, they will not match last year's record. However, what they give up in wins, they will give you in energy, athleticism and desire. They will be exciting and there should be plenty of material for the highlight reel.
Expect to see a lot on that highlight reel.
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