Trail Blazers Raise the Bar After Exceeding Expectations

Jarrod LawrenceContributor IJune 22, 2009

After finishing the 2008-2009 season with a 54-28 record, the Portland Trailblazers will head into next season with lofty expectations.

Before heading into next season, many questions must first be answered regarding the draft, free agency, the salary cap, and team chemistry, to name a few.

With the 2009 NBA draft coming up on June 25th, the first question that many people have is who will the Blazers select with the 24th pick. Knowing how Kevin Pritchard works, that pick could very well be traded for another player before the draft starts or it could turn into a lottery pick.

The Blazers most glaring needs right now are a difference maker at starting point guard, and a quality back up power forward who would bring some much needed toughness to a team that is short on goons.

Looking at the draft prospects, the Blazers will be hard pressed to find a quality starting point guard with the 24th pick. It is almost guaranteed that Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, and Ty Lawson will all be off the board by then.

Darren Collison could be a possibility if the Blazers decide to go point guard with their first round pick. Collison, who is a point guard out of UCLA, averaged 14 points and close to five assists a game last season for the Bruins. He is also know for his lock down defense, something that Blazers coach Nate McMillan has been asking for in a point guards for years.

Collison's small frame is a bit of a concern because he is 6'1" and only 166 lbs, but he makes up for that with his tenacious on ball defense and his ability to effectively run an offense. He is considered by many to be a true point guard.

If North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough somehow falls to the Blazers at this pick, expect them to snatch him up without hesitation. Hansbrough is the quality back up power forward that the Blazers sorely need, and his motor never stops running. He would instantly add toughness, and hustle at both ends of the floor.

It's highly unlikely that Hansbrough will fall to number 24 after having impressive workouts with many other teams, so right now, it looks like the Blazers will go with a point guard, and it very well could be Collison.

However, with Kevin Pritchard and Paul Allen's deep pockets, anything is possible, so don't count out the Blazers making a move for Tyler Hansbrough if that is the player that they truly want.

There have been a lot of rumors floating around about the Blazers moving up to select Davidson's Stephen Curry, but right now, there has not been enough concrete evidence to suggest that any of that is true.

After the NBA draft takes place, there will be no rest, as July 1st marks the first day of NBA free agency. Teams can begin negotiating with players on July 1st, but cannot sign them until July 9th.

2009 does not boast the strong free agent class that 2010 will have, but it is not too shabby either.

The Blazers currently have $13.4 million in cap space, but expect that number to shrink if they choose to pick up the team options for Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw as they have already stated they will do.

Blake has a $4 million option and Outlaw has a $3.6 million option. That would leave the Blazers with $5.8 million in cap space if they choose to retain both players.

Channing Frye is a restricted free agent, who almost certainly will not be re-signed do to his ineffectiveness throughout his Blazers career and his propension for always shooting jump shots, instead of using his 6'10", 250 lbs frame to bang down low.

The Blazers also have three unrestricted free agents; Raef LaFrentz, Michael Ruffin, and Shavlik Randolph, who also will not be re-signed.

As it is right now, the Blazers will only be able to offer a player a deal of no more than $5.8 million annually. It has been rumored that the Blazers will do everything in their power to sign Orlando Magic small forward Hedo Turkoglu. He will almost certainly command atleast $10 million a year, and it would take the Blazers trading some valuable assets in order to free up cap space to sign Turkoglu.

The Orlando Magic have already made it clear that they are willing to pay the NBA luxury tax in order to re-sign Turkoglu, so barring a miracle or a Paul Allen making it rain again, the chances of the Blazers signing Hedo Turkoglu are slim to none.

Now, if the Blazers somehow do find a way to snatch up Tyler Hansbrough in the draft, they would be able to make a reasonable offer to Milwaukee Bucks point guard Ramon Sessions, who will be a restricted free agent.

It is unlikely that the Bucks will match any offer that is made to Sessions since Scott Skiles appears to favor Luke Ridnour, and the Bucks are said to be looking at drafting a point guard with the 10th pick in the draft.

All signs point to Ramon Sessions being on his way out of Milwaukee. Sessions, a playmaking point guard that the Blazers sorely need, is also able to facilitate an offense.

The most interesting fact in this whole ordeal is the fact that the Blazers passed on Sessions in 2007 draft, and instead drafted Taurean Green, who is no longer with the team.

Sometimes, you have to keep on trying until you get it right, and it would not come as a surprise if the Blazers made a strong run at Ramon Sessions in free agency.

The team is clearly not happy with the play of back up point guard Sergio Rodriguez, and seems ready to give up on him. They are also stacked at the small forward position with Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and a healthy Martell Webster returning next season.

Thanks to a solid rookie season by Batum, Outlaw looks like the odd man out. Look for the Blazers to try to include Rodriguez and Outlaw in some type of sign and trade this summer in order to acquire a difference maker point guard.

Another name that has floated around in free agency is Jason Kidd. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but at age 36, he does not seem to have much left in the tank. The Blazers however, seemed to be enamored with him, and might try to make a run at him also.

Kidd worked out pretty well in Dallas last season, and helped them get to the playoffs, so it would be pretty shocking if the Mavericks did not make a whole hearted attempt to re-sign him. Not to mention, the fact that everyone knows that Dallas got the short end of the stick in the Kidd for Devin Harris deal, so re-signing Kidd is pretty much a must for them in order to try and save face.

The Blazers do not figure to be major players in free agency, however, they could make a major trade and splash things up in the Western Conference.

Don't be surprised at all if the Blazers make a serious run at trading for Chris Paul this summer.

It seems like a long shot at first glance, but with the New Orleans Hornets current financial situation looking abysmal, that team could very well be on their way to having a fire sale.

Blazers fans know better than not to put a deal of that magnitude past Kevin Pritchard, but the rest of the league does not.

Pritchard and Nate McMillan have been enamored with Paul for years, ever since they traded down to select Martell Webster, instead of keeping the 4th pick to select Paul.

He is the type of difference maker that can take the Portland Trailblazers from a 54 win team in 08-09 to a championsip team in 09-10. Pritchard has already hinted that there are some major deals being discussed that would shock everyone, and it would not be surprising at all if Chris Paul's name has come up in trade talks.

Whether the Blazers trade for Chris Paul or someone else, one thing is for certain. Expect some type of trade to go down this summer between the Blazers and another team.

A 54 win season is very impressive for a young team like the Blazers, but it seems like they might have reached their peak with this current roster, and changes need to be made.

The core players, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden will stay intact, but no one else's position on the team is guaranteed.

Joel Przybilla will most likely be back, due to the toughness that he provides and also being that his one of the best back up centers in the league.

Nicolas Batum is also a very intriguing player who showed a ton of potential last season, and should continue to blossom as the years go by.

A healthy Martell Webster will provide another three point shooting threat, and someone who can stretch the floor on offense.

Jerryd Bayless' name has come up a lot in trade talks, and right now, it's probably a 50/50 chance that he returns next season.

Sergio Rodriguez and Travis Outlaw will most likely be gone before next season starts, and Steve Blake will probably be relegated to back up point guard duties next season.

With the Blazers returning most of the core players intact, team chemistry should not be a problem.

Greg Oden will have a full season under his belt, and hopefully will be able to avoid a lot of the silly touch fouls that plagued him for much of his rooke season. He should be more of a dominant force on defense, and with better conditioning, he will be more agile and quick on his feet. He should also be more comfortable with his role in the offense.

The Blazers are young team that has been playing together for a few years now, and all of the players seem to fit well in the system. Their team chemistry is one of the best in the league, and that is evident by the fact that most of the players even hang out with each other off the court.

It is more like a family atmosphere with the Blazers; that helps translate on the court. This is a team that is not afraid to fight for one another, and they also like cheering for each other.

The only question that will arise about team chemistry is if the Blazers make a trade to bring in a starting point guard/power forward or sign free agents. It will take some time for them to get acclimated to the team, and it will take some time for the team to accept them as part of the family, but that is what the summer is for.

Once training camp rolls around though, expect the Blazers to pick up right where they left off. This team truly is a family, and will be accepting of any new players that are added to the team.

There is a lot to be excited about if you are a Blazers fan. After finishing with 54 wins last season, expectations will be high for them, and with the core players all expected to return, there is no reason to believe that the Blazers won't exceed those expectations next season.


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