QUESTIONS ABOUND FOR THE PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS
And last night, the Blazers did just as I expected... they lost to Dallas in their first round series of the NBA playoffs.
It's just that I expected them to lose in seven games, not lose it in Game Six at home, at the Rose Garden.
Now, they face all kinds of questions going forward.
It is hard to tell what they will do during the off-season. I think they will need to add a couple of fairly impactful players if they are to be more than a 48-win lose-in-the-first-round team next season.
Trading for Gerald Wallace was an important forward-looking step this year. Now they need to upgrade the rest of the roster a bit.
Upgrading the starting lineup would prove difficult, and might not really be necessary. The Blazers may not be able find better players to fill primary roles than power forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge, point guard/shooting guard Brandon Roy, small forward Nicolas Batum, shooting guard Wesley Matthews and forward Gerald Wallace. Andre Miller is still pretty good as a point guard. But after those first six players, I think the team should have questions.
Ranking seventh and eighth on the roster would seem to be shooting guard Rudy Fernandez and power forward/center Marcus Camby. Fernandez doesn't ever seem satisfied with his role, and tends to be a bit inconsistent. The aging Camby is still good as an inside presence, but he nearly always seems to have injury concerns. I think it is possible to upgrade over those two players, possibly through trades and/or free-agent signings, but I think they also need to be considering the rest of the bench, where they need to build some depth. After the first eight players, they have nobody who can really make meaningful contributions on a consistent basis. Young players such as point guard Paddy Mills and small forward Luke Babbitt may have some promise for the future, but there are no guarantees there.
Another question the Blazers face is whether or not to keep their nearly-always-injured center, young Greg Oden. He will be able to try free agency after the season, and I think it is a situation where Portland can match what another team offers for Oden and keep him, should they decide to do that. I would love to see him come back, but I just don't know... Maybe it's better to invest the money elsewhere and let him move on. The kid has tried his hardest to stay healthy, but it just hasn't worked out for him or for the team. If they keep him, will he just get hurt again and spend another year on the sidelines? Or will he finally be healthy and provide them with some much-needed size and defense under the basket? It would be truly painful for Blazer fans to see him either fail in Portland or blossom with another team. So, what to do?
I could see them trading Andre Miller and Marcus Camby in order to upgrade at the point guard position or move up in the NBA draft. Miller is still good, but he is aging; same deal with Camby.
In the NBA, salary-cap rules often allow for some trades which appear lopsided in terms of talent. One team can let a good player go for players of far lower talent in order to dump the good player's large contract. Would the Blazers be able to trade some of their bench players for another highly-skilled or more impactful player? That has yet to be seen.
As for the NBA draft, some mock drafts I have looked at online have Portland taking power forward Kenneth Faried from Morehead State with their 21st pick in the draft, and I would be cool with that. But I would rather see them get a young point guard like Connecticut's Kemba Walker or Brigham Young University's Jimmer Fredette, and groom one of those two to replace Andre Miller. They would have to move up about 10-12 slots from #21 to have a shot at either of those guys, which would probably mean trading their own first round pick plus another player from their roster for a draft pick in the #5-#10 range.
I think Walker would be great to have. Either he or Fredette could become another legendary Portland fan favorite, I think... kind of like a Jim Paxton or a Geoff Petrie from the days of old. And with the 21st pick, they might have a shot at Butler's point guard Shelvin Mack, which could also be a good choice, although I don't see him as having the potential for as much impact as Walker or Fredette.
In any event, I hope they hang on to Aldridge, Batum, Matthews and Wallace as a nucleus around which to build. And point guard/shooting guard Brandon Roy showed that he can still play; I doubt any other team would want to take on his big contract given how bad his knees are, so he should be back next year too. There are five pretty darned good players. And they could still probably do plenty worse than Andre Miller at point guard, so that is probably six players they could feel pretty good about carrying into next season.
Now, let's do something about the rest of the roster.
Congratulations to them for a good season this year, and good luck to them in improving the roster for next season, so they will be built not just for the regular season but also for the playoffs.