By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 1:58PM
All things considered, the frontcourt has big-time possibilities.
All things considered, point guard turned out well.
All things considered, bottom line, this is not the worst place to be.
Not actually Portland, one of the best places to be. This is not the worst place to be. The Blazers are in recovery mode, but with the proven talents of LaMarcus Aldridge, the hope of Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, and Nicolas Batum in between. They're down the lottery hole again at the very time they should have been deciding which long playoff run was the most fun, but with reason to be encouraged that help is on the way.
Last season was the Trail Blazers' bottoming out -- Brandon Roy was forced into retirement (briefly, it turned out) by injury as the team used the amnesty provision on him. Greg Oden was waived after another medical setback. The locker room turned toxic. Nate McMillan was fired as coach, an interim general manager was the titled head of basketball operations for the entire campaign and the 28-38 record projected to 35 wins with a non-lockout schedule.
Bad health, bad mood, bad record.
The roof has already fallen in on the Trail Blazers. With a roster that will include six players in their first or second year, and with most of the six at the very least possibilities for the rotation, the winning percentage may be worse than in 2011-12, but that doesn't mean the season will be worse. It won't be. (If Aldridge gets hurt, we never had this talk.)
That's the encouraging October perspective, that this is clearly the road back and a lot of the potholes have already been fixed. Lillard, though a scoring point guard in college who needs to prove he can be a sound distributor, is a strong preseason candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Leonard, while probably a year and maybe two away, is regarded around the league as an athletic center with a bright future. Aldridge is coming off an All-Star campaign. Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews took the unusual step of playing in summer league heading into his fourth season because he wanted to set a leadership tone and help push away the bad chemistry from 2011-12. Batum may never live up to the contract worth a reported $45 million over four years -- that's star-player money -- but can still be an impact small forward as a defender and 3-point threat.
Owner Paul Allen watched the first workout of camp, and, speaking to a group of reporters at the practice facility in suburban Portland, termed the work of coach Terry Stotts "the new approach." It's not like Allen would do anything than throw bouquets, of course, but it is, if nothing else, a new direction.
"It's all going to unfold, but it's a very, very exciting time with all the changes we made," Allen said. "We've got new coaching, a new general manager (Neil Olshey) and new players. It's a pretty massive change. An exciting change at the same time. And then you have to see what happens and what judgments you have to make and so forth."
Judgments about players and how they fit, judgments about prospects and how they develop.
"A lot of emphasis on defense," Allen said of the first steps of the transition period. "A tremendous amount of energy out there. Defense, I think, has been something I've been looking for an improvement in for a few years now, so I was excited to see that being emphasized. We've got a lot of changes in the roster and got to see the new players. It's really exciting."
That settles it. This is an exciting time.
All things considered.
1. Some convergence of storylines at center. J.J. Hickson got a late-season opportunity with the Trail Blazers and turned trying to find a home anywhere into such an impressive 19 games that he entered camp as the starter. His competition for the job is Leonard, the No. 11 pick in June.
2. Stotts has several options for secondary backcourt lineups and said he will consider sliding Batum over from small forward in situations and also pairing Ronnie Price with Lillard in a double-point-guard alignment. The issue became especially relevant once Elliot Williams suffered a torn Achilles' tendon.
3. Joel Freeland and Victor Claver are officially Trail Blazers, finally. Freeland was the No. 30 pick in 2006 and Claver the No. 22 in 2009, and both left Europe for the NBA this summer. Both are also in the scramble for front-court minutes.
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LAST YEAR: 28-38, 4th in Northwest
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
DAMIAN LILLARD, POINT GUARD
The No. 6 pick of the Draft will immediately get the chance to run the offense and prove he can be a distributor. He'll take plenty of lumps, though, learning the NBA game.
WESLEY MATTHEWS, SHOOTING GUARD
13.4 PPG | 3.4 RPG | 1.4 SPG
He is trying to take more of a leadership role as one of the veterans on a roster full of kids and will be counted on for defense, perimeter scoring and intangibles.
NICOLAS BATUM, SMALL FORWARD
13.9 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 1.4 APG
After four seasons as a mostly part-time starter, the gig is all his. Good thing that new contract will buy a lot of ear plugs if he does not produce at a high level.
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, POWER FORWARD
21.7 PPG | 8.0 RPG | 2.4 APG
Finally an All-Star last season, the basketball world knows Aldridge is very good. Now it's time to get an idea of how patient Aldridge can be with a rebuilding effort.
J.J. HICKSON, CENTER
8.4 PPG | 6.2 RPG | .467 FG%
Once untradeable in Cleveland, Hickson was disappointing in Sacramento but ended 2011-12 averaging 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 19 games with Portland.
|Meyers Leonard||7-1||245||C||Lottery pick of 2012 is the projected starter of the future.|
|Luke Babbitt||6-9||225||Forward||Former project big saw his minutes rise as 2011-12 ended.|
|Nolan Smith||6-2||185||Guard||Combo guard pair with Lillard down the stretch of games.|
ADDED: G Will Barton, F Victor Claver, F Joel Freeland, C Meyers Leonard, G Damian Lillard, G Ronnie Price, G Tyshawn Taylor
LOST: G Jamal Crawford, G Job Diebler, G Raymond Felton, G Tyshawn Taylor (draft-day trade to Nets), F Kurt Thomas,
DAMIAN LILLARD, POINT GUARD
Lillard is the lone 2012 Draft pick to crack this list. And with good reason. If the 6-foot-3 lightning-quick scorer's performance during Summer League in Las Vegas was any indication of his potential impact, Portland is headed the right way.
Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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