2011-2012 Record: 28-38
2012-2013 Prediction: 32-50
What a difference a year makes. Heading into the 2011-2012 campaign many considered the Portland Trail Blazers, led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace, a dark-horse playoff contender in the Western Conference. The team had added Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton to offset the loss of Brandon Roy and also had young players in Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum who could play strong basketball.
Though the season started off well, Portland's poor guard play cost them a shot at a playoff berth and the team decided to hit the self-destruct button at the trade deadline, dealing Marcus Camby and Wallace in order to create cap flexibility for the future.
Now, after matching Minnesota's four-year, $46 million contract and bringing in two lottery picks in Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, the Blazers are clearly in full rebuilding mode.
The team still has Aldridge, a nightly 20-10 threat and a legitimate All-Star at the power forward spot thanks to his shooting, athleticism and solid defense, as well as Batum who is a multi-position defender, three-point marksman and is due for a breakout year, but there is simply not enough talent around them.
In all likelihood, Lillard and Leonard will both be starters next season, or at least be playing heavy minutes. Lillard was brilliant in Summer League, earning co-MVP honors, but will take his licks against the elite point guards of the Western Conference and certainly will have the ups-and-downs of any rookie guard.
Leonard had a strong sophomore season for Illinois, but he needs to bulk up and develop the finesse aspects of his game. He will struggle to guard the post against the NBA's more physical centers and needs to work on not disappearing during the course of a game.
Add to that a thin bench, little guard depth outside of Nolan Smith, a new head coach, and a brutal Northwest Division featuring three playoff-caliber teams in Minnesota, Oklahoma City, and Denver, and it's hard to see the Blazers improving much this year.
This team will be a threat in a season or two, but next season will be one filled with growing pains.