Portland Trail Blazers: 5 Offseason Moves to Make Them Elite Next Season
For the past couple seasons, the Trail Blazers have been caught in a difficult position. They have felt they had the talent and depth to compete for a conference championship and a top four playoff seed.
Due to injuries and inconsistency, however, they have become a team that is good enough to make the playoffs as a lower seed, but not good enough to advance past the first round.
That is not enough for a team with the money of Paul Allen to go along with a talented young core that still has its best years ahead of it. But what can they do to take that next step towards playing consistently enough, at a high enough level, to be considered an elite team? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Match Any Offer Made to Restricted Free Agent Greg Oden
Greg Oden epitomizes the bad luck that the Trail Blazers have experienced with a rash of injuries over the past two seasons. But after putting this much time and effort into helping Oden have a positive NBA career, the Blazers cannot afford to let Oden leave to some other team before giving him this one final opportunity to show that he can stay healthy and be the player they envisioned when they drafted him.
The truth is that even for all his struggles, Greg Oden is still only 23 years old. If he gets healthy at this point, he could still have a relatively long and productive NBA career. He has shown glimpses before of being a center that could start on a championship-caliber NBA team—he compares favorably to any of the remaining starting centers left in the NBA playoffs this year. One more chance is what he needs.
2. Draft or Sign a Legitimate Backup Point Guard
For whatever reason, the Trail Blazers have had terrible luck trying to find someone to fill this position on the team. Armon Johnson and Patty Mills were both given opportunities last year, and while both impressed from time to time, neither felt like a long-term solution as a backup point guard/future starter when Andre Miller leaves.
This may be a need that is best addressed through the draft, as it would give the team time to acquire someone who can later grow into the starting role, rather than a current NBA player who would have to play behind Miller for at least next season. Unless, that is, someone like Chris Paul suddenly becomes available...
3. Get Nate McMillan to Settle on a Consistent Rotation
This is a difficult one, particularly when your team is a revolving door of injured players. But Nate McMillan needs to figure this one out early so that training camp for next season can be spent on getting players comfortable in their roles rather than trying to figure out who's starting and who's coming off the bench.
The Blazers have at least six players who are legitimate NBA starters: Miller, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby; Roy and Oden also qualify when healthy.
All that talent and depth means that rotations need to be figured out early, along with the players themselves buying into their respective roles, so that team chemistry and unity can be present. All the players will benefit from knowing early on what will be expected of them on a nightly basis.
4. Draft an Impact Player Who Can Provide Frontcourt Depth
There has been a lot of talk about how weak this year's draft is, and how lottery teams not drafting with the first or second picks are out of luck. There may be some truth to that, but it also usually means that there are a few "steals" waiting to be found further down in the first or early second round who will end up being important rotation players for several teams next season.
With Marcus Camby nearing the end of his effectiveness as a dominant defensive player in the NBA, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding Greg Oden and his knees, the Blazers would be wise to draft a young center with upside who they can develop to play for them a couple years down the road.
5. Develop More Creative Schemes on Offense
Too many times this past season, and in particular during the first-round series against Dallas, the Blazers looked totally lost on offense, as if they didn't know where the points would be coming from. With as many talented scorers as they have, this team shouldn't have that problem.
Three-point shooting was often an issue, as too many possessions ended in long, contested jump shots, with the Blazers seemingly unable to break down the opposing team's defense. They need to become more active, set more screens, move better without the ball and learn to take shots in the flow of the offense, rather than simply running alternating isolation plays for LaMarcus Aldrige and Brandon Roy.
If they can do some or all of these things this summer, the Blazers will be looking strong for a shot at a conference championship next season.