Many predicted them to upset the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round of this season's playoffs, and though they fell short, the Blazers put up a tough fight against one of the league's deepest teams.
Despite their recent success, there are two issues that must be resolved before the Blazers are true championship contenders. These are the long-term starting options at center and point guard.
The Blazers are extending a qualifying offer to Greg Oden, a restricted free agent this offseason, and it seems probable that he will return with the intention of starting in the middle.
Oden, the oft-injured former No. 1 overall draft pick, didn't play in a single game during the 2010-2011 season and has been through a lengthy rehabilitation process after several serious injuries.
It is also rumored that the Blazers are interested in Nuggets center Nene, who could be a free agent this summer should he opt out of his contract. Personally, I think Nene's ability to finish at the rim and athleticism fit the Blazers well, but Oden's shot-blocking prowess and overall potential—he is only 23—should not be undervalued.
The man in the middle is not what this article is about though. This article is about who will fill the shoes of Andre Miller, the 35-year-old veteran whose pinpoint passes and incredible basketball IQ have significantly improved the Blazers' execution and ball movement.
While it seems Miller can go on playing forever and he certainly has another good year or two in him, this young Blazers team is clearly in need of a youthful point guard who can grow with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews.
Enter Raymond Felton.
Felton is currently coming off the bench for the Denver Nuggets and in the last year of the two-year, $15.8 million contract he signed with the Knicks last summer. It is unlikely the Nuggets will resign Felton once his contract expires, given that almost $8 million a year is pretty costly for a backup point guard.
Should the Nuggets look to trade him this offseason, an offer of Miller, Rudy Fernandez and a draft pick for Felton and a bench player like Gary Forbes seems feasible.
The benefits of Felton on the Blazers would be tremendous. While Andre Miller is a decent perimeter shooter, he isn't the three-point threat Felton is. Raymond's presence in the backcourt with Wesley Matthews would help space the floor and open up driving lanes for slashers like Wallace and Batum.
Felton posted a career high 17 PPG with the Knicks, albeit with some questionable shot selection at times.
Felton is also an excellent passer. He averaged nine assists a game as the Knicks' starting point guard and had excellent chemistry with Amar'e Stoudemire in pick-and-roll plays. He could easily make the transition to running similar sets with another All-Star caliber forward in Aldridge.
He did an impressive job running the Knicks half-court offense (whenever Mike D'Antoni allowed them to run a half-court set) and also demonstrated his ability to play off the ball, which he did in Denver splitting time on the floor with Ty Lawson.
The main thing that Felton would bring the Blazers is some more athleticism. His quickness would allow the Blazers, one of the youngest and most athletic teams in the NBA, to score easy transition buckets and get out in the open court.
Felton's quick hands and scrappiness would suit the Blazers' gritty style of play well. While he doesn't have the post-up ability of Miller, he is still a very physical player on both ends of the court.
There have been murmurs of Portland acquiring Chris Paul, and while Paul would undoubtedly be great in Rip City, the Blazers would have to give up too much in a trade for him. The Hornets would most certainly ask for Batum and/or Matthews, two young and extremely talented players with tremendous potential.
But in my mind, I don't think it would be wise to break up a group with the chemistry of the Blazers' core.
Why go all the way to New Orleans when you can find what you're looking for in Denver?
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