First and foremost, I absolutely love this city and its NBA team. Growing up in a single-sport city had me sitting in the 300’s of the Rose Garden far before a single word had ever come out of my mouth. Being a product of the 90’s, my earliest memories of Blazers basketball were Arvydas Sabonis dimes and Rasheed Wallace technicals; equally entertaining.
However, there was another entertaining quality of this era of Trail Blazers basketball that had Rip City buzzing.
We were winning games, and a lot of them at that.
The Brandon Roy/LaMarcus Aldridge era was one that was picking up speed in the Western Conference with both players coming into their own. The LaMarcus Aldridge/Damian Lillard era was one that had serious aspirations behind it. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews played essential roles in this era’s success while their injuries may have lead to our eventual demise.
After this offseason we are now faced with a new era and it has only one face, the Dame Face; Damian Lillard.
In a total roster implosion the Trail Blazers lost 9 of their players, who were a part of a hopeful championship team, to free agency and trades. Blazers GM Neil Olshey went into this offseason with two possible routes; resign LaMarcus Aldridge and revamp a superstar team around him for another finals run or, after losing Aldridge, build a very young team with fantastic potential while changing the style of play to a faster tempo.
After Gregg Popovich reeled in our cornerstone power forward, it was time to wheel and deal. Despite reports, I will always believe that Olshey had known that Aldridge was gone when he sent Batum to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for 27-year-old high flying shooting guard Gerald Henderson and 19-year-old high-potential power forward Noah Vonleh. Even if this were true, I would hold no hard feelings against either Olshey or Aldridge in this situation, it’s a business after all. Business decisions were made and, as a result, we are now a team with an extremely bright future. One that has a life-span of 10 years rather than the couple we would’ve had left with Aldridge returning.
Now with this said, instant success for the Portland Trail Blazers should not be expected. In fact I’m going to tell you something right now; We are going to lose a lot this year, and that’s okay.
Do I want to see the Trail Blazers struggling to win once more? No. Do I think we’re on our way to being stuck at the bottom of the league for years on end like the Philadelphia 76ers? Absolutely not.
Olshey is a smart man with an even smarter plan. The level of talent in these young, athletic players is practically unmatchable around the league in a total roster aspect. 14 of the current Trail Blazers are 26 years old or younger. Once the season beings and cuts/trades are made, I expect Portland to be first, second, or third youngest team in the NBA. What excites me most about this team compared to other young teams, like the 76ers, is that we have a number of guys who could realistically make the jump to becoming anything from strong role players to all-stars. C.J. McCollum is getting a lot of attention as a potential Most Improved Player candidate, training with back-to-back MVP winner Steve Nash this offseason, honing his point guard skills. Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee are both up-and-coming big men, a rarity to see in the Association nowadays. Noah Vonleh is a diamond in the rough 2014 NBA Draft lottery pick who could easily develop into a franchise player. Pat Connaughton, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Maurice Harkless all are athletic freaks who could, with time, become fantastic players with sharpened skills. The key word with all of these players? Development.
An obvious, yet somewhat forbidden thing to speak of, is next year’s NBA Draft. I’m not suggesting the frowned-upon tanking strategy, but if it were to happen that we fail to find success this season, we will be rewarded with a valuable lottery pick in the NBA Draft. Where do you think we got our current-era superstars from?
Count this 2015-2016 Portland Trail Blazers team out as a playoff threat this season. Damian Lillard won’t want you to do that with his never give up attitude, but I will. However, don’t count this team out as an exciting one to watch. I have always considered the Phoenix Suns a joy to watch with their high intensity, fast-paced, high-scoring play style despite their lack of playoff success. Expect to see an entertaining Blazers squad this season with some potential that other NBA GM’s and fan bases could only dream of. Expect to be excited and amazed by a young team with phenomenal athleticism. Prepare to lose a lot this season, but don’t worry; success will soon follow.