Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining off-season moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. And now, the Portland Trail Blazers.
2008-09 Record: 54-28, second place in Northwest Division
Head Coach/Facial Hair: Nate McMillan/'Stache
Key Additions: Andre Miller(notes), Juwan Howard(notes), Dante Cunningham(notes), Jeff Pendergraph(notes)
Key Losses: Sergio Rodriguez(notes), Channing Frye(notes), Shavlik Randolph(notes), Mike Ruffin, Raef LaFrentz's(notes) expired contract
Portland fans probably won't like the win total listed at the bottom of the preview. Go ahead, you can sneak a look. Just scroll back up when you're done, you dirty hippie.
It's not egregious, the predicted record. I'm not calling for the Trail Blazers to fall off the face the Earth. In fact, I'm adding a win to their 2008-09 win total, a season that saw them win fewer games than the team's point differential suggested.
But it is just one more win, for a team expected to do big things. Sixty-win things. Championship things.
Why? I'm having a hard time telling you. This is a championship-caliber team, even though it couldn't get out of the first round last season. It's loaded, it has more talent than last season, and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if the Blazers eventually racked up those 60 wins. Or more.
So why just one more? Injuries, I guess, but I'm not going to pretend to know who randomly gets hurt this season. Andre Miller might pout a bit, but even if he is out of shape and reliving his time spent with the Los Angeles Clippers back during 2002-03, he can't be any worse than the backup point guards that Portland trotted out last season. Really, there's no reason.
It's just how I think it shakes out. The West is stacked, again, and wins are going to be hard to come by. Do you really want to take some wins away from the Lakers or Spurs and hand them to the Trail Blazers ... just ‘cause? I don't.
The team will be much better in 2009-10. The offseason included picking up a few rookies who won't play and essentially trading Sergio Rodriguez for Miller, and that's about it. Every other step up will come from internal development.
For most teams, that's a bit of a bummer. When your team boasts Brandon Roy(notes) (possibly the league's most underappreciated superstar), LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) and Greg Oden(notes), this is a great thing. To say nothing of Martell Webster(notes), Travis Outlaw(notes), Rudy Fernandez(notes) or (especially) Nicolas Batum(notes). This team is loaded with great young players, and I don't even really care for Jerryd Bayless(notes).
And every year, until they hit their prime, youngsters take their production up a step as compared with the season before. And the Trail Blazers? Every player on the Blazers, who was a Blazers last season, will be better than the year before. Every one. That's so huge.
I don't like to be in the business of sussing out the spring while sitting in the midst of October, but I honestly think Portland is the clear No. 2 in the West. Better than San Antonio, better than Denver, better than anyone else.
I don't have them winning as much as the Spurs in the regular season, for whatever reason, but I think they have the best chance at knocking off the Lakers. This team could go from the lottery to a championship in just two years.
Everyone's got to stay on point, though. Everyone has to be willing to walk the million-mile journey and stay focused, and I think Nate McMillan's the sort of guy who can keep that focus for this (still, very) young team. I'm not worried about Portland taking a step back. Roy's too good, in all areas. With Oden in shape, he'll truly shape up that iffy Trail Blazer defense. The depth is there, the scoring is the best in the league per possession, and we're still early in this particular game.
This is the year of the second big jump, Portland. Just don't measure it by regular-season win total.
If signing Andre Miller is the biggest move, can the Blazers take the next step?
Unless the team has the worst luck in the world — and considering Greg Oden, Bill Walton and Sam Bowie's history, this isn't completely out of the realm of possibility — Portland's internal development, along with the addition of Miller, should be enough. And if Oden is able to play, say, 33 minutes a game and not sit out for more than a few games in 2009-10, the team's defense could jump up to the ranks of the above-average. Paired with what was statistically the best offense in the NBA last year, this could mean 60 or more wins even with no All-Star additions.
• Blazersedge: "Anything short of a division title and the second round of the playoffs would be a disappointment. Management, coaches and players have all set the bar that high, and they've done so with a confidence that borders on cockiness. Management feels they have assembled the right personnel (and lots of it!), the coaches feel they've added experience and savvy to a talented group of youngsters, and the players feel like they have something to prove after getting booted out of the first round by a tougher, more determined Houston Rockets team. Pretty simple, really. There are other goals: Aldridge and Oden want to make the All-Star team, Roy wants to be all-defense, a few Blazers reserves could be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, but those awards and accolades aren't the focus." [more]
• Rip City Project: "Adding a passer like Miller to the most efficient offense in the NBA should, in theory, only increase Portland's effectiveness, but Nate McMillan has experimented with tempo and lineups in the preseason, leading to offensive inconsistency thus far. Much of the Blazers' success with the ball last season was tied to them being the best offensive rebounding team in the league thanks to having centers with the No. 1 (Joel Przybilla(notes)) and No. 8 (Oden) players in terms of rebound rate. It's tempting to say size, youth or depth is Portland's greatest strength, but it should be versatility. As the Blazers found out against Houston last season, matchups are key in the playoffs and by adding Miller and getting a healthy Martell Webster along with the natural progression of the younger players McMillan should have a specific lineup available for any situation." [more]
• Blaze of Love: "For a team that rattled off 54 wins last season, they have some pretty glaring weaknesses that teams could easily exploit. When you ask for a poster child of poor pick-and-roll defense, you'll see the gigantic frowning face of Nate McMillan. It doesn't matter which pick-and-roll defensive scheme is decided upon because you'll see zero success with this team running any of them. Let's also not forget that the Blazers are below average in their transition defense and struggle with turnovers on a nightly basis. Plus, they can't seem to get anyone to turn on the burners and push the ball for any easy buckets of their own. I haven't looked at the numbers, but Portland has got to be one of the lowest teams in the NBA for fast-break points. Andre Miller should help to increase those numbers." [more]