30 Teams in 30 Days: Blazers favor continuity in their climb
Portland rewards youngsters Crabbe, McCollum and Leonard in offseason as it eyes more success
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: Portland Trail Blazers
2015-16 record: 44-38
Who’s gone: F Cliff Alexander, G Gerald Henderson, G Brian Roberts
Who’s new: SF Jake Layman (via Draft); C Festus Ezeli,G/F Evan Turner (via free agency); G Shabazz Napier (via trades)
The lowdown: The Blazers stunned observers by making the playoffs after losing four starters from their 2014-15 squad, then advanced to the Western Conference semifinals where they gave the Golden State Warriors a fight.
The Blazers have known better times in their history, but the 2015-16 season was one of the prouder ones in it. It’s a credit to coach Terry Stotts, GM Neil Olshey and star guard Damian Lillard that Portland is suddenly a player in the West when plenty thought they’d be picking up the pieces now.
Before you examine what they did this summer, it’s still necessary to go back two summers ago when an exodus led by LaMarcus Aldridge put Portland in a weird spot. They were pasted together with spare parts and somehow dismissed all the projections of them finishing near the bottom in the West.
They won 44 games and beat the Clippers in the first round (injuries to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul helped) and, more impressively, engaged in a shootout with the Warriors. The perception of the Blazers changed swiftly and now this is a team that’s not only ready to win, but awfully fun to watch.
They’re loaded with shooters and big men who screen and roll well. The goal was not only to improve upon that, but keep those who made it possible.
They had to swallow hard to keep backup guard Allen Crabbe after the Brooklyn Nets’ bold overthrow attempt. Brooklyn extended a four-year, $75 million offerfor a fourth-year player who hasn’t been in a prime role. The offer therefore was borderline insane in scope, but the Nets had nothing to lose; their Draft is controlled by Boston until 2019 so they were desperate to use another avenue to add help. Crabbe is now the third highest-paid player in team history after Lillard and C.J. McCollum. He averaged 10.3 points last season, and while he had a few decent efforts in the playoffs, Crabbe will remain a backup because of Lillard and McCollum.
McCollum parlayed his Kia Most Improved Player Award-winning season into a $106 million deal over four years and is the ideal compliment to Lillard. That’s a lot of coin for three guards, but the backcourt is the source of strength for Portland.
They did sign Turner, a swingman with a decent dribble game and who’s strictly a mid-range scorer. That’s a nice twist for a team that ranked 6th last season in 3-pointers attempted. Turner had a good run in Boston and is capable of handling the ball from a point-forward spot, giving Stotts some options when he devises a gameplan for this season.
The Blazers also re-signed Meyers Leonard for four more years at $41 million. Leonard was hampered by a separated shoulder and then a torn labrum that ended his season in March. Leonard is 7-foot-1, but is a poor rebounder and inside player. He reinvented himself as a stretch-five and made 37.7 percent of his 3-pointers last season and fits in with the flavor of the team nicely.
And then the Blazers, after spending so much money, got a bargain. Ezeli chose a bad time to showcase his flaws and go into a deep funk, which was the case during the playoffs and especially the NBA Finals. Suddenly, the free agent offers cooled, even during a summer when fringe players were suddenly making high seven figures. Portland offered two years and $15 million and Ezeli took it. Had he delivered a superb post-season, Ezeli could’ve fetched far more. Remember, fellow raw center Bismack Biyombo parlayed his breakout postseason into a $17 million-a-season deal with the Orlando Magic.
He, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis will be this team’s power players and will be looked to for interior defense, rebounding and catching passes off screens.
In all, it was a positive summer for the Blazers, quite different than a year ago. Wouldn’t it be a coincidence if the Blazers, after such an encouraging summer, did an about-face on the court and floundered this season?
That would make as much sense as what happened last season.
Coming Next: Detroit Pistons
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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 onTwitter.
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