The Portland Trail Blazers did a remarkable job of bouncing back after losing all but Damian Lillard from their starting lineup, promoting the more than ready C.J. McCollum, and surrounding them with players who complement their strengths and weaknesses. Can you make a championship team out of this?
The Blazers seem to think so. Lillard and McCollum are both signed for a long time, which means the most exciting backcourt to watch in the NBA isn’t going anywhere. Terry Stotts got more role players to work with, as he makes them buy into not seeing a lot of the ball on offense, while doing some hard work on defense/rebounds/hustling so the team’s two stars can do their thing, which is shoot a lot and score a lot, combining for 45.9 points per game last season, averaging 37.6 field goal attempts per game.
The Blazers made the conference semifinals last season, their second time in three years, taking advantage of the Los Angeles Clippers losing their best players one by one during the series. They made things difficult for the Golden State Warriors, but didn’t really have anyone wondering about who was going to win the series. As fun as it is to watch this team at times, they have some major flaws when it comes to other players outside their backcourt.
What did the Blazers do to fix their problems? They kept Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe, which makes sure their bench doesn’t fall apart, but does put their future flexibility in question. This team isn’t going to get high draft picks, and won’t be able to make big signings in the free agency market. They seem to believe that the core they have now, along with some additions, could be enough to make a more serious run at an NBA title, something that hasn’t happened in 16 years.
Evan Turner came over for $70 million over four years, to help out at small forward, other backcourt spots and bring some clutch ability late in games. Turner is another perimeter player who isn’t a very efficient shooter, but he makes good decisions late, and is a much better defender than earlier in his career. He also gives the Blazers an option of playing some interesting small ball lineups that might include Lillard, McCollum, Turner and Crabbe, although that does sound super creative.
Festus Ezili was their big frontcourt addition. A player who defends the rim well and finishes from close range too. The Blazers needed some size and especially width in the paint, and while Ezeli isn’t going to be a 25-30 minutes per game kind of player, he adds something the Blazers were missing, with all due respect to Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard.
Best Case Scenario
The developing relationship on the court between Lillard and McCollum continues to grow, but still leaves room for players like Crabbe and Turner to experess themselves offensively. When it comes to the bottom line, making the conference semifinals is enough, although putting up more of a fight, unlike their last two visits to that stage, will be required.
Worst Case Scenario
Standing in the same place. Which means the changes and more expensive roster don’t show the team made an upgrade, and not making any sort of impact in the playoffs. Obviously, missing the playoffs will be an even bigger disaster, but barring a serious injury to their starting guards, it’s hard to see the Blazers not finishing in the top 8.