Portland Top 10 in ESPN's 'Future Power Rankings'

by Casey Holdahl
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At least once a year the folks over at ESPN put together a "Future Power Ranking" in which teams' three-year arc is predicted based off of five variables: players, management, money, market and draft. Teams are given a score in each category, with the cumulative score producing a ranking whose goal is to give fans "convenient way to see the direction in which your favorite team is headed."

This year, thanks primarily to the strength and youth of their current players -- Portland is the second-youngest team in the NBA going into the 2017-18 season -- and management's steady hand, the Trail Blazers come in tied with the Utah Jazz for 10th on the Future Power Rankings...

After the Blazers won a playoff series and hung tough with the Warriors in 2016, their dip to 41-41 last season felt disappointing. However, there's still reason for long-term optimism in the Rose City.

Weighted by minutes played, Portland's playoff rotation was the youngest among the 16 teams who qualified, and while star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum appear at or near their peak, the midseason addition of center Jusuf Nurkic gives the Blazers' starting lineup more upside.

Portland will have to rely primarily on internal development because, even after shedding the salary of Allen Crabbe this summer, the Blazers are still in the luxury tax. A lucrative new contract for Nurkic -- a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn't sign an extension before the regular season -- could keep them in tax jeopardy for years to come.

As noted, the Trail Blazers get their best ranking, 9th, in the "management" category thanks to a number of shrewdly executed moves over the years courtesy of President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey and the successful and stable tenure of head coach Terry Stotts. The team does almost as well in the player category, where they rank 10th in large part due to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum being under contract for the next four seasons. But unsurprisingly, having both of those players on max or near max contracts, along with the deals the team handed out during the 2016 offseason, results in Portland being ranked near the bottom of the league, 28th to be exact, in the "money" category.

Portland (and Utah) sit directly behind the Washington Wizards at No. 9 and ahead of the Toronto Raptors at No. 12.