The Portland Trail Blazers had arguably the best off-season that no one talked about. While all the buzz was about Dwight Howard going to Houston and the big trade going down in Brooklyn, no one noticed that little team from the North West going out and getting solid role players left and right. Instead of going out and using their cap space to sign a big name, they instead decided to fill little holes as needed. They were able to improve their biggest weakness from last year, their bench, without giving up any assets. The team is absolutely loaded offensively, with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, Nicolas Batum and rookies C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe all able to fill the bucket. They are a young team and if they can put it together, they could make some noise in the very loud western conference.
Head Coach: Terry Stotts begins his second year as Trail Blazers head coach. Stotts has a career win record of 148-217, a .405 win percentage. He has only made the playoffs once as a head coach, in 2006 with Milwaukee, but he does have a championship ring from his time as an assistant in Dallas. His assistants are Kim Hughes, Dale Osbourne, Nate Tibbetts, Jay Triano and David Vanterpool.
Last Season’s Record: 33-49. The Blazers missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
Key Player Losses: J.J. Hickson? No one the Blazers lost really hurts them that much. Hickson went to the Nuggets, Luke Babbitt went to Russia, Eric Maynor signed with the Wizards. The team seemed to upgrade each one of their spots, however.
Key Player Additions: Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright. The Blazers found themselves sneaking into a few big trades and coming away with solid players. They were able to get Robin Lopez from the Pelicans in order for them to sign-and-trade Tyreke Evans. They also took advantage of the Houston Rockets' need to dump salary in their Dwight Howard hunt by taking on Thomas Robinson. The tenth pick in the draft, C.J. McCollum is somewhat of a Damian Lillard lite, and the big question is if the two will play in the back court together. The Blazers were also able to sign free agents Dorrell Wright and Mo Williams.
Best Player: Damian Lillard was the NBA Rookie of the Year last season, averaging 19 points per game and 6.5 assists. He started every game for the Blazers, and hit a game winner against the Hornets in December. He shot .368 from three point range last year. You'd like to see his turnovers come down this year (he averaged three a game last year), and Lillard has said his goal to make the All-Star Team and lead Portland back into the playoffs.
Worst Player: Joel Freeland. Averaging only 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, Freeland didn't really contribute much last year. Nothing has led me to believe that will change this year.
Player due to breakthrough: Thomas Robinson has never really gotten a chance since being drafted fifth overall in last year's NBA draft. The Kings had a glut at the forward position and Robinson never really saw the court long enough to make an impact. He was then shipped off to Houston in a salary dump that the Kings didn't really need, but the Maloofs just wanted to save some money. Robinson has been the victim of two separate salary dumps now, and if he can get significant minutes in Portland, he could blossom into the player that folks have expected him to since his time at Kansas.
Random Seattle Connection: Aside from the literal Seattle connection that is I-5, Terry Stotts was an assistant for Seattle from 1992 to 1997. The Blazers also recently signed former Sonics point guard Earl Watson. Some think they should have gone after Luke Ridnour. Discuss.
Best Case Scenario for the Season: The Blazers goal for this season is to make the playoffs. They will have some competition in the West, but they have made significant moves that could help them sneak in. They don't have any superstars, but Lillard could blossom into a very special player and LaMarcus Aldridge is still a potential All-Star every season, or a major trade chip should the right situation come along.
Worst Case Scenario for the Season: The worst case for Portland would be if their "frail Blazers" persona once again rears its ugly head. Aldridge has missed time with injuries before and losing him could greatly affect the team, although having Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson behind him isn't as scary as having Luke Babbitt and Jared Jeffries.
Projection: 43-39 and the eight seed in the playoffs. Then a first round exit.
Prediction: Portland is in a very good position to be as high as the number two team in the Northwest Division and make the playoffs as a low seed. If Aldridge stays happy, or gets shipped out for a serviceable replacement, there's no reason to believe that the Trail Blazers aren't one of the top eight teams in the west. General Manager Neil Olshey deserves a lot of credit for turning this team around, and they are set up to only get better in the future.