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2016-17 Season Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

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Oct 12, 2016 12:55 PM ET

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Picked for the bottom in the Western Conference last season, the Blazers defied logic and not only had a 44-win season, but reached the Western Conference semifinals. They had some luck on their side, too, beating the LA Clippers once Blake Griffin and Chris Paul went down with injury. Still, Portland created an entirely new personality on the fly and reinvented themselves as an exciting team led by now-certified superstar Damian Lillard. They spread the floor and launched 3-pointers and avoiding a total reconstruction project, the fun-to-watch Blazers are primed for another playoff run. 

ICYMI

The Blazers continued to pad the roster in a variety of ways, signing versatile Evan Turner away from the Boston Celtics … They also matched the four-year, $70 million offer sheet Allen Crabbe got from the Brooklyn Nets … They also retained their own free agent, big man Meyers Leonard … Festus Ezeli was signed after the center had a decent run with the Golden State Warriors

THREE POINTS

  1. The Blazers will stick to a tried-and-true formula: keep the ball in the hands of their Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Co. and use their big men as pick-setters. This caused hell for teams last season, and the Blazers advanced to the Western Conference semis. But will other teams finally figure them out?
     
  2. Festus Ezeli cost himself millions with a poor showing in the NBA Finals, and wound up signing for far less on the market. This was good news for the Blazers, who got him cheap after spending a ton on Turner, Crabbe and Leonard. If Ezeli can fall into place, Portland will grab plenty of rebounds.
     
  3. After years of front-office insecurity, the Blazers are finally comfortable with the GM-coach combination of Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts. Both have done an admirable job and won the confidence of unpredictable owner Paul Allen. Expectations are rising in Portland it’s largely because of these two. 

MAN ON THE SPOT

The money you make is often more about your leverage and timing than anything else. This was true for many players in the summer of ’16 including backup guard Allen Crabbe. He shot a career-best 39 percent from deep during the season, then had a handful of solid playoff games. That was enough for the desperate Nets to give him a four-year, $75 million deal -- which Portland matched. Crabbe will make $17 million this season after making $2.3 million in his first three seasons combined.

STARTING FIVE

Al-Farouq Aminu | 10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.7 apg
Flourished in the playoffs and brings decent range

Ed Davis | 6.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.1 apg
Dependable rebounder who needs a go-to offensive move

Mason Plumlee | 9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.8 apg
Pick-and-roll player is often shaky near the rim

Damian Lillard | 25.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.8 apg
Brilliant shooter and decent playmaker is among the league elite

CJ McCollum | 20.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.3 apg
Efficient scorer is perfect compliment to Lillard

KEY RESERVES

Evan Turner | 10.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.4 apg.
Multi-talented swingman was a pricey pickup.

Meyers Leonard | 8.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 37.7 3-point pct.
Big man is soft near the rim but has impressive 3-point range.

Allen Crabbe | 10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.2 apg.
Expensive returnee is a very reliable shooter from deep

THE BOTTOM LINE

After a thrilling 2015-16 season, here comes the tough part: can Portland build on its momentum? They have a star in Lillard (and maybe another in McCollum) and much will depend on how Stotts can both incorporate Turner's talents and expand Crabbe's role. Portland can’t lean so heavily on Lillard and McCollum for points without wearing them out. In addition, the Blazers must climb from 21st in defensive rating (as they were last season) to compete with the big dogs in the West. They can push for 45-50 wins if all goes well.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.

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