Why Portland Trail Blazers Will Be Playoff-Bound Next Season
With one game remaining in this dreadfully uninteresting season, fans have already begun to look to the future and understand that this is going to be one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history.
A trade deadline explosion left the team without two of its starters, a new interim head coach and a record of 8-14 during a stretch where they were supposedly vying for a playoff spot this year.
Those same moves, however, are ultimately what have put the Blazers in such prime position heading into this offseason.
Following the deadline deals, the Blazers were able to rid themselves of Gerald Wallace’s contract and obtain a potential lottery pick from the New Jersey Nets.
The word "tank" is something that most fans and teams try to avoid, but the Blazers have essentially earned a spot in the lottery with their own poor record, and having a second pick possibly coming their way puts them in a similar position as the last time the team looked to rebuild in 2006.
Despite drafting both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge before the 2006-07 season, the rebuild that began nearly six years ago clearly hasn’t gone as planned.
The Blazers were ready to showcase the Big Three of Roy, Aldridge and Greg Oden in 2007, but injuries have ultimately torn apart the once highly touted trio.
The even sadder truth is that when the three did get to play together throughout the years, they never quite got it done, as the team has yet to make it past the first round of the playoffs in more than a decade.
But the thing to remember for Blazers fans is that this is a far different rebuild than the one that began back in 2006.
When the Blazers drafted Roy, Aldridge and then Oden, the team was essentially starting over from scratch.
Veteran leadership was virtually nowhere to be found, as the average experience found in the locker room was less than three years of play.
The go-to option at the beginning of the previous rebuilding stage was Zach Randolph, but when he was shipped out before the 2007-08 season, the team had to rely on a young Roy to lead the way.
Roy was great while his time with the Blazers lasted, but having such an inexperienced guard lead the way—no matter how good he was—didn’t help the team get into the playoffs until they were able to add depth to the roster two seasons into his career.
This time around, the team already has an established star player who will be sticking around the roster for years to come, and at this point, he just needs the depth to help take the load off his shoulders moving forward.
Luckily for the Blazers, the depth should return next season.
Will the Blazers return to the playoffs next season?
Along with the lottery picks this summer, the team is going to have an unprecedented amount of room under the salary cap to spend in free agency.
With as much as $24 million to spend, the Blazers will have the cap space to be true players when looking for depth and leadership in the free-agent market this summer.
Nicolas Batum is reportedly going to command as much as $11 million this offseason, and J.J. Hickson could very well garner some attention of his own.
If Batum does receive an offer as high as is being reported, it will change the game in Portland; but the truth is, fans shouldn’t be worried.
If the Blazers retain their two players, they end up with a core group of Aldridge, Batum, Wesley Matthews, Hickson and two lottery picks.
Is this a championship group? Probably not. But getting to the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem once the group is joined by a new point guard and the depth is acquired with the remaining salary.
If they can’t get Batum and Hickson back to Portland next season, that leaves them near the top of the league in money to spend this summer, meaning they could attract everything from depth on the bench to proven max-contract players next season.
Portland has never been a highly desirable free-agent destination, but money talks, and already having an All-Star on the team will be incentive to a number of players out there on the market.
The one area where the Blazers truly will be starting over from scratch is at the head coaching position.
Nate McMillan was a great coach when it came to bringing up the team from the basement of the NBA, but while he helped the team grow, his slow-paced, isolation style never proved to be worthy of a second-round appearance.
If the team can find the right head coach this summer—someone who can utilize both the young guys and the experienced players on the roster—the transition back to the playoffs could happen much more quickly than the drought that took place in the early 2000's.
As fans, your heads might be down now; and rightfully so.
The team was a disappointment this season, but with as many things that went wrong this year, there is a lot to look forward to just around the corner for this franchise.
This team will be back, and if the right moves are made this summer, it could be this time next season when you're cheering loudly, not for ping pong balls and lottery picks, but playoff seeding and a deep run in the 2012-13 NBA postseason.
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