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New-look Blazers begin rebuilding around Lillard

All-Star guard carries brunt of Portland's hopes in 2015-16

POSTED: Oct 13, 2015 11:37 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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The fun was nice while it lasted. After back-to-back 50-plus-win seasons, the Blazers are plugging holes from all the defections last summer, the biggest being the one left behind by LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland now reboots and rebuilds around Damian Lillard.

ICYMI

Four-fifths of the opening day starting lineup from last season was gone by summer's end, three via free agency. ... Lillard snagged the largest contract in team history at five years and $120 million. ... Al-Farouq Aminu was named MVP of the AfroBasket Tournament, where he lead Nigeria to victory and an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics.

THREE POINTS

1. Neil Olshey reacted swiftly and smartly once he knew Aldridge was gone. Rather than bring in veteran duds, the GM found young players on the rise and on the cheap; he got Moe Harkless for virtually nothing. Portland remains flexible going forward with tons of cap room.

2. The Bobcats gave up on Noah Vonleh pretty fast, enough to make you wonder. But the Blazers have the time and the minutes to allow him to grow. It's a no-lose situation.

3. Portland has 14 players on the roster 25 years old and younger, which puts them with the Sixers as the league's most inexperienced teams. But they have Lillard, whereas the Sixers do not.

MAN ON THE SPOT

C.J. McCollum came of age during the playoff series with Memphis, scoring 77 points in the final three games and dropping serious hints that he's ready for a major role. Well, he doesn't have a choice. Portland needs him to accept a co-star role. McCollum can give the Blazers a rather solid backcourt combo if what we saw in the playoffs wasn't a fluke. He's not the biggest two-guard but has shown to be steady and coachable and willing to work well next to Lillard. The Blazers would love McCollum to be mentioned among the candidates for Most Improved Player as the season progresses.

STARTING FIVE

C.J. McCollum | 6.8 ppg, 1.0 apg, 39.6 3p%.
Former lottery pick is now ready for his close-up as he gets his chance to be a go-to guy.

Damian Lillard | 21.0 ppg, 6.2 apg, 34.3 3p%.
The Blazers now belong to a two-time All-Star who rates as a dangerous threat from deep but a lightly regarded defender.

Ed Davis | 8.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 60 fg%.
He might get the most minutes at center and if so, he must use muscle and hustle to compensate for lack of height.

Al-Farouq Aminu | 5.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.9 spg.
Underrated player averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds against Rockets in the playoffs; will his production rise with more minutes?

Mason Plumlee | 8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 57.3 fg%.
Very athletic big man appears to be a good get from Brooklyn, but obviously has big shoes to fill at power forward.

KEY RESERVES

Meyers Leonard | 5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 39 3p%.
Developing big man has stretched his range to 3-point land.

Noah Vonleh | 3.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 39.5 fg%.
Finally free of the front-line crunch in Charlotte, he can now prove his worth.

Gerald Henderson | 12.1 ppg, 2.3 apg, 43.7 fg%.
A steady guard with hops, Henderson can handle sixth-man minutes if given.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The best news for Portland is everyone seems to be on board with what the team is doing, which means fans will be patient this season. The goal is to develop for the future and gain assets. Which means, whether intentional or not, Portland seems lottery-bond.

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 on Twitter.

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