Portland Trail Blazers: 5 Things Team Must Do to Build on 2011-12
The 2011-2012 campaign will be known as the season that the Blazers decided to move into a new era.
Coach Nate McMillan was fired, former top pick Greg Oden was released, Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby were traded away, and the Blazers stumbled to the finish with a 28-38 record, missing the playoffs for the first time in three years.
A playoff berth is a reasonable goal for this upcoming season, but the Blazers still have work to do. Here is a look to see what the Blazers can do this offseason in order to prove 2011-12 was not a lost season but instead part of a bigger, long-term plan.
Work the Draft
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The Blazers’ gamble in trading Gerald Wallace for the Nets’ top three-protected draft pick paid off, as the Nets did not move up in the draft lottery. Now, the Blazers have the 6th overall pick from the Nets in addition to their own pick at 11th overall.
The Blazers have the most glaring needs at center and point guard, and if they keep their picks, are sure to use one, if not both of their picks to fill those positions.
The Blazers recently brought in Weber State point guard Damian Lillard in for a solo workout, and appear very likely to make him their point guard of the future after his impressive showing last Friday.
Meanwhile, Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard and Tyler Zeller are all possibilities at center.
Drummond will likely be gone by the eleventh pick, and if he is it would not be surprising to see the Blazers turn a deal or two with the pick, especially with Jamal Crawford extending his opt-out deadline so that the team can use his contract as a trading piece on draft night.
Lock Up Nicolas Batum
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Apart from LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum is the only player on the roster who has been in Portland beyond the past two seasons. And apart from Aldridge, Batum is the best player on the roster.
While he will never be a prolific scorer, the Frenchman does bring three-point ability, and he plays with the same intensity whether he scores five or 25 points.
Batum’s length and agility are what makes him most valuable though. Often tasked with guarding the opponent's biggest scoring threat, Batum has emerged as a shut-down defender.
Batum is a restricted free agent, which likely means the Blazers will need to match an offer sheet from other bidding teams.
If Batum gets an offer in the $10 million per year range, the Blazers should match it.
If the club is smart, they’ll offer Batum that figure or possibly a bit more as soon as free agency begins and lock him up, especially considering statements made by Batum’s agent that do not raise hopes if the Blazers are hesitant on making a new deal.
Hire a First-Time NBA Coach
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A big-name signing like Stan Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan or Mike D’Antoni is not the solution here.
Instead, the Blazers need to go the assistant coach route and hire a coach that will be able to start from scratch with a roster full of young and unproven players.
The first option is keeping interim head coach Kaleb Canales. While Canales is just 34 years old and only a few years removed from being the Blazers’ video coordinator, he is the supposed favorite in the organization and the leader in the clubhouse for the position.
Considering how they have not hired someone yet, the Blazers should wait until after the draft so that they can have increased focus on hiring a leader that will grow up with the team.
Bring over Joel Freeland and Victor Claver
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For most Blazers fans, Freeland and Claver represent wasted first round picks in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Until now.
Freeland is a 6’10” British big man with a skilled offensive game, while Claver is a 6’10” Spanish small forward that defends well and hits three pointers, similar to Batum.
Considering the lack of depth on the Blazers’ current roster, the timing is perfect to inject some European talent and see how the two perform.
Right now, new general manager Neil Olshey seems to favor bringing over Claver compared to Freeland, though both have buyout situations with their European clubs. Olshey said in an an interview with The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman:
Clearly if there was a ever a time when there was enough opening for him to come in and make the team, with a lot of other young players he can grow with, this is probably the time.
Expectations for the pair should not be high, but adding one or both would give the bench a needed boost.
Create Peace in the Front Office
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After firing Kevin Pritchard on draft day in 2010 and canning his replacement Rich Cho less than a year later, owner and Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen has shown that he is the man in charge.
After not having a general manager for over a year since Cho’s firing last May, the Blazers hired Olshey away from the Los Angeles Clippers.
Having a permanent GM might still have not been enough to prevent last season’s meltdown, but the organization and its fans need someone to be accountable for personnel moves.
Olshey has not decided yet whether to keep holdovers in the Blazers’ front office.
Whatever he chooses to do, Blazers fans hope that he, Allen and the yet-to-be-named head coach forge a relationship of trust and confidence so that the management nightmare that has been the last two years will finally end.