Portland Trail Blazers: 6 Burning Questions Heading into 2012-13 Season

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2012

Portland Trail Blazers: 6 Burning Questions Heading into 2012-13 Season

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    The Portland Trail Blazers were extremely active throughout the summer of 2012, but it seems at this point that there are more questions than answers when it comes to the 2013 NBA season.

    Training camps have begun, and while the team from Rip City is showing potential, they’re also stuck with a rebuilding roster in a tough Northwest division.

    Newly hired head coach Terry Stotts has instituted a completely different offense than Nate McMillan used in the past, but the question is, will a new offense ultimately equal better results?

    The team is already full of storylines, but if there’s one thing we know at this point in the year, it’s that this roster should be far more entertaining to watch than the dreadfully disinterested group that took the floor at the end of 2012.

6. Will Nicolas Batum Earn His Paycheck?

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    Nicolas Batum caused a bit of a commotion when he signed an offer sheet worth $46 million over four years with the Minnesota Timberwolves (according to ESPN).

    The Portland Trail Blazers ultimately matched the lucrative deal, but the question is, did the organization overpay?

    Batum averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 2012, but when it comes to an NBA contract, you have to believe that the teams are paying their players not off of past production, but on future potential.

    If Batum plays the same timid, inconsistent brand of basketball he’s displayed the past four seasons, the assertion will be that the team did indeed overpay.

    However, if the 24-year-old can step up his game and have an impact on both ends of the floor, he’ll earn every penny that the Timberwolves offered him in the 2012 offseason.

5. Who Will Play Center?

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    Since the drafting of Greg Oden in 2007, this team has been in a state of flux when it comes to finding a starting center.

    Joel Przybilla was always a fan favorite, and Marcus Camby proved to be a nice short-term fix, but with both of them gone in 2013, the team is starting from scratch at the center position.

    J.J. Hickson was named the starter in training camp (according to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian) over rookies Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland, but you have to wonder how long that will last. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge are both power forwards, while Leonard and Freeland appear to be more true centers.

    Leonard was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft, while Freeland is finally joining the team after being drafted in 2006.

    This team isn’t deep at center, and without an experienced big man to play alongside Aldridge, it’s going to be interesting to see how many lineup combinations Terry Stotts uses throughout the season.

4. Is Damian Lillard the Real Deal?

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    Damian Lillard was selected No. 6 overall in the 2012 draft, and despite the pressure on him to help rebuild a franchise, he has become a popular candidate for the 2013 Rookie of the Year award.

    At 6’3”, Lillard resembles some of the game’s most athletic, top-tier point guards. He showed off his ability to score and play above the rim in the Las Vegas Summer League, and if he can be as good as advertised, he’ll be the point guard of the future that this team has been coveting for years.

    The big questions for Lillard are, can he score against NBA competition, and can he facilitate after being a shoot-first player at Weber State?

    The answer to those questions will raise or lower his NBA ceiling, but with his diverse skill set being thrown into the starting role right away, fans in Portland are anticipating greatness out of their up-and-coming prospect.

3. Can This Team Stay Healthy?

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    The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the league's most unfortunate franchises when it comes to health since the mid-2000s—and beyond, if you're keeping score at home.

    There’s no point in rehashing the injuries the team has endured as of late, but the group is already at it again with the season-ending surgery of Elliot Williams in the offseason.

    Williams has proven to be completely injury-prone throughout his three NBA seasons, but it begs the question, can the Blazers escape the curse that has seemingly been set on this organization?

    LaMarcus Aldridge is coming off hip surgery, Wesley Matthews had a bad ankle in 2012 and rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard each had minor injury problems at the collegiate level.

    The Blazers are not a deep team, and if the injury bug strikes again, it could be a long year in a tough Western Conference.

2. Who Will Step Up Behind LaMarcus Aldridge?

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    The Portland Trail Blazers became The LaMarcus Aldridge Show following last season’s trade deadline, and with a few new pieces and a new head coach in 2013, there are a few solid candidates for a No. 2 option.

    First and foremost, Nicolas Batum deserves serious consideration. He’s been paid big-time dollars, and if he can’t produce in 2013, he may never be the player fans hope he can be.

    Wesley Matthews is another option. His offensive game hasn’t always been consistent—like Batum’s—but his shot is dangerous and he’s one of the hardest working players night in and night out.

    Damian Lillard has a legitimate chance of being the man in his rookie season. He’ll have the ball in his hands as the team’s newest point guard, and his shooting ability will keep him dangerous if his athleticism fails him at the NBA level.

    J.J. Hickson is also a possibility, but regardless of who it is, it's time for somebody to step up in 2013.

1. Can This Team Return to the Playoffs?

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    The 2011-12 season proved to be one of the more disappointing years in this franchise’s history, but following a highly-anticipated offseason, the question around Portland has to be, can the Blazers make the postseason?

    The first thing to recognize is that this team is young—the veteran list on this team comprises 27-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge, 25-year-old Wesley Matthews and 23-year-old Nicolas Batum.

    With so many young faces throughout the rotation, energy versus experience is going to be a crucial theme in making, or not making, the playoffs.

    The other thing to note is that the Western Conference improved big-time this summer. We all know about what the Los Angeles Lakers did, but even the Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors have all gotten better.

    If LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play at an All-Star level, this team will be on the right track toward a playoff push in 2013. However, finding a viable second option will be what makes it a possibility, as we saw in 2012 that he simply can't do it on his own.