5 Problems Still Holding the Portland Trail Blazers Back
The Portland Trail Blazers finally took a step in the right direction when they drafted Damian Lillard.
A franchise that had been floundering for years due to horrific injuries and bad draft picks finally saw their luck turn when they took a chance on the point guard from Weber State. It could have gone bad, but Portland's luck finally changed.
Now, they need to figure out some of their other roster issues. They are a solid team in a great conference. They have some good starters, but not a whole lot more. Their salary-cap situation isn't terrible, but it isn't great, either.
Here are the five biggest issues facing Portland.
Team Depth Is Lacking
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A team's overall outlook is totally dependent on how good their starting five are. But very few teams are successful when they don't have a solid second unit coming off of the bench.
Right now, the Blazers have a solid starting lineup with two All-Star caliber players, but they have no bench help.
Four of the Blazers five starters are averaging over 37 minutes per game. This basically means that if anyone in the starting lineup goes down, this team will not be able to recover.
Now there are a number of different ways that a team can add depth. But the best way is through the draft.
The Blazers have been horrid at drafting players over the past decade. If they have any shot at building team depth, they are going to have to develop the young guys on their roster and grab a couple of guys next year that can bolster their bench.
Drastically Small Front Court
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Now don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of J.J. Hickson's game. He is gritty, smart and loves contact. Those are traits that you definitely want in a center.
But the man stands only about as tall as Tayshaun Prince. That trait you do not want in a center.
The Blazers were wise to bring Hickson back this year. He had a solid run with Portland last year after being acquired and deserved another contract. They also should offer him a contract next year.
But they should not try to make a starting center out of the guy.
Hickson is the perfect bench big man. He plays with energy and toughness, two traits you want in your sixth man. But his lack of size is really holding back this Blazers team.
Portland needs to upgrade their center position with a seven-footer.
Obviously, Dwight Howard will be a long shot, but there will be other options in the free agent market. Samuel Dalembert, Al Jefferson and Chris Kaman all would be significant upgrades for Portland.
So too would be a whole slew of restricted free agents that all could be had for the right price.
Shooting Guard Needs an Upgrade
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I personally really like Wesley Matthews. He is a very underrated shooting guard that the Blazers were able to get for a great value when they signed him away from Utah a few years ago.
That being said, he is not an elite shooting guard and given the Blazers' current roster, they probably need an upgrade at this position.
Matthews is a solid shooting guard. He can play good defense, his range on his jumper is superb and he knows how to get contact when driving the ball.
That being said, he is not an elite athlete and you need elite athletes at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
The Blazers are gearing up to be a good full-court team. They have guys that can get out and run and they have solid athletes at most of their starting positions. They have a decent half-court game as well, and Matthews fits well in to the latter. He does not, however, fit into the former.
The Blazers are set at three of their starting positions. Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum are the core of this team and the Blazers are committed to building around them. Therefore, they need to upgrade their other two spots.
Matthews would be the perfect sixth man for this team. His demeanor lends itself well to someone coming off of the bench.
But they need to have a dynamic scorer in the starting spot for this team.
There are some options in free agency, but Portland needs to really make a serious run at O.J. Mayo. Sure, Kevin Martin and a few others would be an upgrade, but Mayo is the one game changer in this crop of free agents.
Interior Defense Needs Work
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Okay, so this fits in with the second slide of this piece, but it needs mentioning here as well.
The Blazers are a team that gives up too many easy buckets. They are giving up too many points in general, but the back court is not to blame.
Damian Lillard is only going to get better at perimeter defense and Nic Batum is not the problem, either. Aldridge is a solid defender, but he will always be more offensive-minded and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The key for this team's defense is the center position. They need to have someone that can send shots back and make opposing slashers think twice about going to the hoop.
The free-agent market isn't necessarily the way to go for this team, although I do like some of the options.
The Blazers likely will find themselves drafting in the lottery and there should be some options there. Nerlens Noel is the obvious perfect fit for Portland, but he will likely go top three.
Alex Len is another option, but he looks too much like a Meyers Leonard clone. Rudy Gobert from France is another guy that I like here, but he also needs to get stronger.
The Franchise Needs to Make a Splash
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The Blazers have been basically floundering for a few years.
When I first came to Portland in 2008, there was a buzz around this team. They had just drafted Greg Oden first overall, LaMarcus Aldridge appeared to be a star on the rise and Brandon Roy was already a superstar in the league.
Cut to this year, and you have a team that is lacking that buzz. Sure, Aldridge has realized a lot of his vast potential, but the rest of the team is way behind.
Obviously, this team has had more than its share of bad luck. But they are way behind the Portland Timbers for the soul of this town. And the Timbers are perhaps the worst team in their league, a league that is battling just to remain relevant.
The Blazers need to make a splash this offseason. They need to try to bring in a proven scorer and upgrade their overall talent level.
They are lucky in the sense that they will have some cap space and they have an overall solid core of players. There are few guys around the league that wouldn't love to play with guys like Lillard, Batum and Aldridge.
But this team needs to get the fans excited again. There is already a feeling that management is content to just ride things out with the status quo. But that would be a mistake.
They have an elite power forward, a very impressive and young small forward and perhaps one of the best young point guards in the league. They need to capitalize on this bunch and make this team a contender.