Seven Burning Questions Facing the Portland Trail Blazers This Off Season
Question: With three competent small forwards on the roster (Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster), which one is the odd man out?
Answer: My guess is that Travis Outlaw will be wearing a different uniform next season even though, right now (and possibly in the future) he is the best of the three but is the most expendable due to his high trade value.
Batum is making peanuts and probably has the highest ceiling of the three; you just don't give up on a 21-year-old with his raw talent. Even if you looked to move Batum, it would be hard to receive equal value because of his contract.
Webster is the great unknown. He has played a total of five minutes in more than a year's time. He is still not fully healed from surgery which makes him virtually un-tradeable.
All of this points to Outlaw as the odd man out. There are at least a dozen teams you'd think who would be amped to drop T-Law into their starting small forward spot. Funny to think that he's been a Trail Blazer longer than anyone else currently on the roster, seems like just yesterday Bob Whitsitt drafted him out of high school. Looks like that honor will now go to Joel Przybilla.
Question: Who will be the starting point guard next season?
Answer: I have a pretty good feeling whoever it is, is not yet on the roster. I'm not a Steve Blake hater like many inexplicably are around here. I think he does everything you want your point guard to do: set up the offense, limit mistakes and hit the open shot.
But after getting torched by Aaron Brooks in the playoffs, it seems that the focus has been to bring in somebody who can be more of a lock down defender at the one. Jerryd Bayless is a fierce competitor who will only get better but his days as a starter are still in the future.
Sergio Rodriguez is not a Nate McMillan style point guard. He's short, turns the ball over a lot and doesn't play much defense. I'd be surprised to see him on the team in 2009-2010. That said, he could easily be a top three assists-per-game guy on a team like New York or Golden State.
So whether it's Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller, Jason Kidd, or somebody else, I look for Kevin Pritchard to find an established NBA point guard to lead the team next season, whether through trade or free agency.
Question: Can Greg Oden become more dependable?
Answer: Yes, but he must learn how to move his feet better on defense or he will never get enough playing time to make the improvements necessary to taking the next step.
He will most likely never live up to the hype that the team and this city put on him the day he was drafted, but he still has plenty of time to develop into a solid starting center, if not a perennial all-star.
I expect Oden to be the starting center next season with Przybilla coming off the bench just as the team started last season, only this time I expect it to remain that way for the entire year.
Question: Will Rudy Fernandez be happy in Portland for very much longer?
Answer: Probably not. This will probably become Pritchard's toughest decision sometime soon. Rudy is a crowd favorite, a spark plug off the bench, and a dead-eye shooter from long range but playing second fiddle to Brandon Roy will not sit easy for Rudy for much longer and it's hard to blame him.
Fernandez isn't nearly as talented as Roy and most likely never will be, but he still has more talent than the 20-25 minutes-per-game role player that he was most of his rookie season in the league.
Look for Pritchard to make one of the more unpopular team moves since Bob Whitsitt traded Clyde Drexler sometime between now and the end of 2010 by trading Rudy while his value is still sky high. You just can't keep so many young talented players happy for too long.
Question: What will be done with the five draft picks?
Answer: Saying there's a chance that Pritchard orchestrates at least one trade on draft day is like saying there's a chance that it rains at least once in Portland between now and the start of the Blazers' season in 2009. But what will that trade(s) be?
Whoever the team does draft and wherever pick they end up drafting from, look for the Blazers to only end up with two or three rookies instead of five when it's all said and done; The roster is deep enough already, it's time to consolidate talent.
Question: Will the Trail Blazers add a veteran presence via trade and/or free agency?
Answer: Yes, and if they don't, and then they fail to get out of the first round again next year, Blazermaniacs might begin to get a little antsy.
Question: Will the Trail Blazers improve in 2009-2010?
Answer: You may think this sounds like a no-brainer, right? It's probably closer to 50/50 than you think though. 54 wins and the No. 4 seed in the West are pretty lofty benchmarks. It's definitely not a shoe-in that next year's team will have the same success.
The Lakers are still around and will continue to be for at least three or four more years.
The Nuggets proved they might just be the next best team in the west and they return a nice mix of veterans and guys in their prime.
I'm not suggesting the Blazers won't improve, I'm very confident we will; I'm just not sure that an improved team equals an improved record and playoff seed. That's just how good the west is right now one through eight.
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