What Portland Trail Blazers Must Do to Get Back into the Playoffs Next Season

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2012

What Portland Trail Blazers Must Do to Get Back into the Playoffs Next Season

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    Just 28-37 with one game to go, the 2011-12 NBA season can't end quickly enough for Portland Trail Blazers fans who already have begun to look toward the future of Rip City.

    This summer could prove to be one of the most important offseasons in franchise history, and if the team can utilize its draft picks and massive amounts of cap space, the Blazers should make their return to the postseason next year and become relevant again in the wide-open Western Conference.

Find a GM

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    This summer has the chance to be one of the busiest offseasons in Trail Blazers history, and the team needs a general manager to help ensure that all the right moves are being made throughout the rebuilding process.

    It can be argued that the team has been fine without one, because they turned Gerald Wallace's contract into a potential lottery pick, but remember that it was without a GM that the Blazers also swapped Andre Miller for Raymond Felton and continued throwing money at an injured Greg Oden.

    With so many big-time decisions to be made in the next few months, the Blazers would benefit from the signing of a qualified GM sooner rather than later.

Spend Wisely

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    The Blazers will begin the rebuilding stage with as much as $25.9 million in cap space, and spending it wisely could depend on who fills the vacant general manager position before free agency this summer.

    Nicolas Batum has looked like a strong possibility to remain in Portland beyond this season, but as a restricted free agent, the 23-year-old forward is expected to command between $10-11 million per year in contract negotiations.

    At that price, it's going to come down to how badly the team wants him long-term and whether or not they can find a better option to come in and make an immediate impact for less money.

Find a Big Man

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    The Greg Oden experiment clearly did not turn out well for either the Trail Blazers or the 7'0" center from Ohio State.

    Having officially severed ties with the often-injured Oden, the Blazers are once again searching for their next true big man to fill the paint in Portland. 

    The first way is through the draft. With two potential lottery picks this year, the team could target Andre Drummond early or Tyler Zeller with their second pick, and begin grooming whomever they choose right away.

    The second way will cost more money, but with players such as Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Chris Kaman and Spencer Hawes all on the free-agent market, the Blazers could get a proven commodity if they're willing to spend this summer.

Find a Point Guard

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    When the Blazers traded Andre Miller last summer, they were hoping that they had found their point guard of the future in 27-year-old Raymond Felton.

    Clearly, not all things work out as they're planned in Portland.

    With two potential lottery picks in their possession this summer, the Blazers could look to replace the poor play of Felton with either UNC's Kendall Marshall or Weber State's Damian Lillard. 

    If the team decides to go a different route in the draft, a number of solid point guards make up this summer's free-agent class, and the Blazers could look for a more proven player to lead the way next season.

    The point guard position has to be a focus this summer, as the team needs a floor general next year who can help lead the team back to the playoffs.

Add Depth

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    Before this season, it seemed as if the Trail Blazers had been touted for their incredible depth ever since the 2006 rebuilding project began.

    This year did not have that same feel.

    No backup point guard was ever truly established, the reserve big men never made a huge impact and even Jamal Crawford had a difficult time establishing himself as a go-to option off the bench night in and night out.

    Should the Blazers end up with two draft picks as expected, the lottery will certainly add depth to a rotation that badly needs it.

    Free agency could be the way to go, too. So long as the Blazers are smart with their money and fill the right positions, the team should be far deeper next season than it proved to be this time around.

Hire the Right Coach

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    As the season is reaching its dreadful conclusion, the interim tag remains on head coach Kaleb Canales.

    Despite being dealt a roster without Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby and even LaMarucs Aldridge down the stretch, Canales has sparked an energy in the team that was seemingly non-existent at times early in the year. He deserves to have his name considered for the full-time job next year.

    Management needs to be aggressive in their search, and if they decide Canales isn't the guy for the job, they need to go out and find the coach who is going to get the team back into contention next season.

Rebound Better

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    Once the Blazers parted ways with Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace at the March 15 trade deadline, the team became a subpar rebounding team at best the remainder of the year.

    Ranked just 25th in rebounding this season, the team is going to need to add pieces who can clean up the boards night in and night out against any team in the league.

    Players such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum are also going to have to step it up on the glass and do what it takes to get the team extra possessions next season.

    Aldridge averaged eight rebounds per game this year, but as a 6'11" power forward playing more than 36 minutes a game, you'd like to see that number climb as close to 10 as it can get.

    Batum is a player who is on the perimeter most of the time, but double-digit and near-double-digit outbursts on the boards this season show that he has it in him if he's aggressive moving forward.

Improve Late-Game Execution

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    Brandon Roy left many voids as he retired before the season began, but the biggest hole to fill had to be the late-game heroics that he became so infamously known for throughout Rip City.

    Raymond Felton was the main culprit this year when it came to poor late-game execution, but he can't be the only player to blame when the team went 5-15 in games decided by 5 points or fewer this season.

    Jamal Crawford showed at times that he can be turned to in crunch time, but inconsistency plagued the 32-year-old guard all season, and he was never quite as reliable as fans would have hoped for.

    Establishing a go-to option late in games is crucial, and if the Blazers can do that moving forward they'll be back in the playoff race sooner rather than later.