Season Preview: Portland Trailblazers

As a site, we ranked all the NBA teams from worst to best for our release of season previews. Day three’s daily release of a season preview ends up being the Portland Trailblazers. I provide a recap of their past season, an offseason recap, and then finally the season preview all of us fans are eager for.

Portland Trailblazers:

Last Year’s Record: 51-31

Playoff Status: Lost First Round

This past season was going great for Portland until the injury bug stuck their team. LaMarcus Aldridge got hurt, but was able to play through the injury. Nicolas Batum battled multiple minor injuries throughout the year. Robin Lopez was injured early in the season, which was not as bad for Portland, as shown by their 30-8 start, but the worst was when they had Wesley Mathews lost for the season due to a Achilles injury, and Portland finished the last 22 games with a record of 10-12. Portland, even with all of these injuries was able to make it the playoffs as the fourth seed, due to winning their division, but were just out-manned by a dominant, defensive minded Memphis Grizzlies. The Trailblazers might have had a chance with Matthews healthy, but with him out, and poor bench play, Portland lost the series in just five games. Heading into the offseason big changes were expected out in Rip City. Starters, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and LaMarcus Aldridge were all unrestricted free agents, while key bench pieces Aaron Afflalo and Steve Blake also opted for the open market. Very few predicted the retention of all of these players, but few expected what did happen for the city of Portland.

Heading into the 2015 draft, Portland’s biggest priority was shoring up its perimeter defense. Once draft night began, Portland sat back, and waited for their pick, who they then selected, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Jefferson was expected to provide excellent perimeter defense, and with that, hopefully develop his shot. Shortly after selecting him, Portland traded Jefferson to the Brooklyn Nets for Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton. Plumlee was added for insurance purposes if Lopez was not retained, while Connaughton’s three point ability was brought in to spice up their bench, and give them the much needed shooting they needed. Flipping Jefferson for Plumlee looks like a great short-term win for the Trailblazers, as Jefferson struggled mightily in summer league for the Brooklyn Nets, and looks to need a lot of time before he is a consistent contributor.

The offseason was one most fans will want to forget. As I said earlier, Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Aaron Afflalo, and Steve Blake were all free agents, and not a single one was retained by the Portland Trailblazers. Portland also traded starter Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets. Portland was now looking at a new season without four of their five starters from the season before. Although Portland will likely be one of the worst teams this next season, they did do a good job of acquiring talent in free agency to make their team an interesting team to watch. The Batum traded netted Portland, Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. Henderson will be able to fill the starting role of shooting guard, while Vonleh, a former top ten pick will be developed for the future, and with Aldridge out, Vonleh should get more playing time than his time in Charlotte. In the paragraph above, the draft day trade for Mason Plumlee and Connaughton, provides Portland with a good starting center, as well as a three point specialist for their bench. The final trade of the offseason, brought Maurice Harkless to Portland from Orlando. Harkless will be a good perimeter bench player, who still has a lot of untapped potential, that maybe Portland can bring out. Portland also signed Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Cliff Alexander. Ed Davis had his career best season last year with the Los Angeles Lakers. Davis has never been able to live up to his former lofty expectations, but his rebounding and shot blocking ability will change the interior defense mind set, and making the overall team defense that much better. Cliff Alexander had a disastrous season at the University of Kansas. Before the start of the college season, many experts predicted Alexander as a lottery pick, but with inability to make consistent contributions in his limited playing time, Alexander saw his playing time diminish, and after a scandal late in the season, Alexander left the team, and with that, Alexander’s draft stock plummeted. Alexander still has a lot of talent, and with the rebuilding stage Portland is in, Alexander may get to show everyone why he was a five-star recruit. Aminu, was probably the best signing for Portland. Aminu will not blow anyone away with huge stats, but his ability to stretch the floor, rebound, and play sound defense will make him a great team player, which Portland could use to build around, or draft a better player, and have him be a great bench piece.

The 2015-2016 season will be an interesting one for Portland, which is not a new thing for Portland, as they are known for keeping things weird and interesting. Four new starters will make Damian Lillard even more leaned upon for offense and leadership. Lillard will likely be in contention for the MVP award, as he should put up gaudy numbers, but with the rest of his team being as average as they are, and not being able to compete for a playoff spot will cause voters to choose a player on a winning team. This will be a season of team development, and to see who is worth keeping on the roster. With plenty of talent at the top of the 2016 NBA draft boards, Portland will be able to find a young star to speed their growth. The top names for Portland will be Skal Labissiere, Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, and Dragan Bender. Simmons is a unique point-forward, Labissiere provides great two-way potential, Brown, Ingram, and Bender provide great offensive potential for Portland to build around. Portland will have plenty of cap space to sign any max free agency, and with so many stars in that 2016 free agent class, Portland can use its cap space, good amount of youth and depth, potentially high lottery selection, and the main piece, a star in Damian Lillard, to try and acquire another star to help lead them to contender status.

By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17

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