The northwest endured a demoralizing 2012-13 NBA season (after all, the Sonics are still dead and mourned), but the Portland Trailblazers do have reasons for optimism. Following a wrist-slitting 13 game losing streak to end the year, the club has aggressively addressed its biggest issues and seems poised to compete in the Northwest Division. How is this so?
1) Reinforcements have arrived.
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum was drafted 10th in the draft, and the combo guard hopes to settle into the role of primary bucket filler off the bench. 31th pick Allen Crabbe (from Cal) is a valuable 6’6” shooter who should be in the mix as well.
Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson were acquired cheaply through trades, and their muscle alone should fortify the once-shallow frontcourt. Lopez, in particular, will protect the rim much more effectively than the departed J.J. Hickson and commit to the dirty work to let Aldridge to roam free on offense.
Also don’t sleep on Dorell Wright’s addition, which provides three-point shooting and ideal athleticism on the perimeter. 34-year-old Earl Watson, formerly of the Utah Jazz, will bring sorely-needed insurance at point guard.
2) The rich are getting poorer.
Have you looked around the division recently? Aside from the Minnesota Timberwolves, every franchise took a massive step back in the offseason.
The Denver Nuggets fired head coach George Karl and traded defensive star Andre Iguodala, giving first-time head coach Brian Shaw less talent to work with.
The Utah Jazz unashamedly surrendered, allowing both their starting bigs to leave in free agency.
The Timberwolves did improve their roster in the offseason, but they finished last season in fifth place and the health of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio is no guarantee. The window is propped wide open for Portland’s squad to make a run.
3) Internal growth.
Continuity within the core starting four will further develop trust and limit mistakes. The Blazers also boast an intriguing group of youngsters who lead coach Terry Stotts will try to mold with his 20 years of NBA experience. Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton and Victor Claver are all high-ceiling athletes, and it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two in the crew takes significant strides towards becoming an impact rotation player (or superstar, in Lillard’s case) in 2013-14. Even Batum may not have yet reached his full two-way capabilities, considering he is a five-year veteran but only 24.
4) They’re hungry.
Portland still has a large appetite despite the vulgar taste left after the season.
When asked about the horrific losing streak which tied a franchise record from 1971-72, Matthews explained, “It’s up to us to make sure we erase this as soon as possible next year.”
Granted, the Trailblazers lost to several playoff contenders on their way to 13 defeats, but a team with title aspirations should never need an excuse. The bitter end to 2012-13 will serve as motivation to those who were a part of it, which should equate into grittier fourth quarter performances.
5) That Aldridge guy…
The heart and soul of the Blazers, Aldridge has witnessed the team’s rise, fall and stagnation in mediocrity. Will the All-Star be around for Portland’s rebirth? Aldridge recently denied a speculated trade demand, so that is reassuring.
When the power forward is on, he is one of the best pick-and-pop scorers in the NBA and a remarkably efficient post weapon. Aldridge’s points-per-game average (over 21 PPG for three seasons running) may take a dip next year with the influx of talent around him, but Lillard and company play to their best when Mr. Centerpiece is occupying the interior.
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