Trail Blazers Vs. Suns Preview
October 30th, 2013
By JEFF BARTL
Thirteen seasons have come and gone without the Portland Trail Blazers winning a playoff series, a drought that isn't lost on general manager Neil Olshey with the franchise coming off another disappointing campaign.
Portland, though, seemingly has the talent to contend in the loaded Western Conference this season unlike the rebuilding Phoenix Suns, who host Wednesday night's season opener.
The Trail Blazers have lost their last six postseason series since coming within one victory of the NBA Finals in 2000, and they missed the playoffs for the second straight year after ending last season on a 13-game losing streak to finish 33-49.
Olshey saw some positives to build on, though. Damian Lillard was named the league's rookie of the year after averaging 19.0 points and leading the league in minutes played, while LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 21.1 points and a career-best 9.1 rebounds.
Lillard averaged 24.3 points and 5.7 assists in helping the Blazers go 2-1 against the Suns last season.
Portland also got solid seasons from Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, and it acquired center Robin Lopez from New Orleans in the offseason to be the starting center.
"Look, the West is incredibly deep, incredibly talented. A lot of the teams returning to the playoffs probably feel like they have a seed locked up. But we're going to do everything in our power to get back in," Olshey said. "I think we're talented enough, the way our core four players played last year, supported by the new additions, they're going to give us a great chance."
Lopez averaged 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season, and Aldridge is looking forward to getting some help down low.
"I just want a big to play with," Aldridge said. "I feel like I can go to the next level playing alongside him because he's going to block shots. If he doesn't block it, I can come block it."
Olshey also made it a point to shore up the Blazers' depth after they received an average of only 18.5 points off the bench, by far the worst in the league. He drafted C.J. McCollum with the 10th overall pick and signed veterans Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Dorell Wright. He also traded for Thomas Robinson, who was the fifth overall selection in the 2012 draft.
Though McCollum will be nursing a foot injury for at least the first few weeks, Williams plans to begin contributing immediately.
"I'm just going to be a problem (for opposing teams)," Williams told the team's official website. "I'm going to be on everybody's scouting report because I feel like that'll take pressure off of (Lillard) and (Aldridge)."
Phoenix, meanwhile, put more pressure on its young group - as well as first-year coach Jeff Hornacek - by trading veteran center Marcin Gortat to Washington on Friday for the injured Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round pick. The Suns also sent 2012 first-round pick Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee in the deal.
It marked the most recent of many moves by new general manager Ryan McDonough, who has made no secret of his plans to reshape a roster that went 25-57 - the franchise's worst record since its inaugural campaign of 1968-69.
McDonough traded Jared Dudley in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee that landed young guard Eric Bledsoe on July 3, then dealt Luis Scola to Indiana for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first-round pick later that month. He then bought out the troubled Michael Beasley in September.
Phoenix, which drafted big man Alex Len at No. 5 and has been impressed with rookie guard Archie Goodwin, potentially will have four first-round picks in next year's draft.
"The night is darkest just before the dawn," McDonough said. "And I promise you, the dawn is coming."
That likely won't be this season, but Hornacek is excited to have the services of returning leading scorer Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, who missed all of last season due to a heart condition. At 6-foot-11, Frye can play both inside and outside, as he's a 39.0 percent career 3-point shooter.
Frye didn't expect to play until December, but he's way ahead of schedule and plans to play in the opener.
"He pushed himself," Hornacek said. "I was surprised in training camp. I thought he would get into it slowly and do a couple of things but he kept pushing through stuff, rarely sat out."
Phoenix will be without Markieff Morris on Wednesday as he serves a one-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka in a preseason game.