Portland makes small tweaks after another year of improvement

Aldridge, Lillard continue to pace the Trail Blazers
by Aaron Lopez
Nuggets.com

Two summers ago, the Portland Trail Blazers were in a state of flux. They hired new head coach Terry Stotts and drafted promising rookie point guard Damian Lillard to guide the offense.

Four other rookies joined Lillard on the roster, and the growing pains were evident as the Blazers won 33 games and finished fourth in the Northwest Division.

Fast forward to 2014 and Portland is a team on the rise in the Western Conference. They earned the No. 5 seed in the West last season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs before falling to the San Antonio Spurs.

As Nuggets.com continues its look at what offseason moves each team in Northwest has made since the season ended last spring, today, we examine the Blazers.

Background: Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge have become one of the top inside-outside tandems in the NBA. Both averaged more than 20 points per game during the 2013-14 regular season and increased their production in the playoffs.

The Blazers also benefitted from good health; Aldridge was the only starter to miss a game last season.

Summer moves: After adding center Robin Lopez, guards Earl Watson and Mo Williams and forwards Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright through free agency last summer, the Blazers have been relatively quiet in 2014.

For the first time in 16 years, Portland didn’t have a selection in the NBA Draft, but they signed veteran free agents Steve Blake and Chris Kaman.

Blake will supplant Williams as the backup point guard off the bench, while Kaman provides depth in the middle behind Lopez and Meyers Leonard.

Big picture: The Blazers have improved their record each of the past two seasons, but it will be a challenge to top their 54 wins while competing in the West.

After averaging a career-high 23.2 points, Aldridge is heading into the final year of his contract but says he wants to finish his career in Portland. That would ensure a 1-2 punch with Lillard for several years to come.

In addition to their two stars, the Blazers have stability in the middle with Lopez and sharpshooters on the perimeter in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. All three are also very good defensively.

If their starters can stay healthy once again, the Blazers have an excellent chance to compete for a top-four seed in the West.

Next Up: Minnesota Timberwolves