Portland Trail Blazers: 10 Bold Predictions for the Team This Summer
The Portland Trail Blazers have emerged from a season filled with setbacks and battered with adversity, but they are headed in the right direction. The team has established a young core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum that could make for a championship contender for years to come.
Still, there are a lot of questions going forward that the Blazers need to address before the team can cement itself as a Western Conference powerhouse.
Will veterans Andre Miller and Marcus Camby return or be traded? Which new faces will be present in Rip City come the 2011-2012 season? And what will become of Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, the team's injury-plagued stars?
Without further ado, let's take a look at some potential moves that could be made by Portland this offseason...
Note: A great deal of this depends on what the new CBA and salary cap look like, so all these moves in one summer may not be totally feasible.
#10) Carl Landry Will Find His Way to Portland
Landry was traded from Sacramento to New Orleans this year to serve as David West's back up, and once West went down with an ACL injury, he filled in admirably as the team's starting power forward for the end of the season and the playoffs.
The Blazers desperately need someone coming off the bench who can give LaMarcus Aldridge some rest and contribute to the team's offense. He can even play alongside L.A., with Aldridge at center in a smaller, more mobile line-up.
Landry is an excellent offensive player, and despite being slightly undersized is active defensively and on the boards. He's a gritty player who would fit well into Nate McMillan's system and with the current Blazer mentality.
Best of all he's cheap; signing Landry wouldn't make a huge dent in the Blazers' remaining cap space, and he'd certainly add some frontcourt depth.
#9) Draft Nolan Smith with the 21st Pick
The Trail Blazers need to sort out their "point guard of the future" situation, and while I don't believe Smith is the answer, he's got a game that should translate well into the NBA and will make an excellent bench player even in his rookie season.
Smith adapted to playing the point out of necessity after Kyrie Irving's toe injury and showed a real knack for running his team's offense. In addition, Smith is a solid perimeter shooter and an excellent on-ball defender. Though he isn't particularly explosive, his lateral quickness and length would be real assets for the Blazers.
While Smith may not have as high a ceiling as some other guard prospects, his intelligence and experience would be a perfect fit in Portland.
#8) Greg Oden Will Be Back
That image of Grandpa Oden is from December of 2009, the last time Oden played in an NBA game. As every basketball fan knows, the Blazers' decision to draft Oden with the #1 overall pick in 2007 has been a nightmare for Portland due to the myriad of injuries that have struck the former Ohio State center.
Still, I don't believe the Blazers have given up on Oden entirely. They have the right to extend him a qualifying offer that will keep him in Portland for another season, and there is good reason for them to do that.
Even in heavily limited minutes on the floor, Oden's been extremely effective. Prior to his knee injury in the 2009-2010 season, Oden was averaging 11 points, 2.3 blocks, 8.5 boards and shooting 61% from the field in only 24 minutes of play a night.
Though he may never be the franchise center the Trail Blazers envisioned when they drafted him, if Oden can stay healthy and contribute consistently, there's simply no reason not to bring him back.
#7) Brandon Roy Will Be Back Too
No player in the NBA had a more trying season than Brandon Roy. The double knee surgery, the return, the struggle to adjust to his new role, Roy's adversity-filled year culminated in one of the most incredible playoff performances in league history against the Dallas Mavericks, but it still wasn't enough as the Blazers were defeated in the first round of the postseason for the third consecutive year.
Now, rumors are swirling that the Blazers may ask Roy to retire or look to trade him to get out of the hefty contract he's locked into. However, I believe Roy will be back in Rip City for next season when all is said and done.
Though B. Roy may never get back to the All-Star level he was at prior to the injuries, a summer of rehabilitation could do huge things for his consistency and confidence.
If Roy can give the team 20-25 minutes a night and around 10 points a game and provide the team with some strong leadership, he is definitely worth keeping for another season before any irreversible decision is made.
#6) Randy Pfund Will Be the Team's New GM
Personally, I think firing Rich Cho ten months into his time as general manager was a horrible move. Anyone who can orchestrate the kind of trade Cho did for Gerald Wallace deserves to stick around and see his moves pan out. Cho also signed Nate McMillan to a two-year extension, and keeping Nate around is key if the Blazers hope to become one of the West's elite teams.
However, clearly owner Paul Allen and team president Larry Miller were unhappy with the direction Cho was going in for whatever reason.
Pfund interviewed for the GM position after Kevin Pritchard was fired and would make an excellent GM for the Blazers, unless Larry Miller decides he can't grab a beer with him.
Pfund was a part of the Miami Heat franchise during their 2006 title run and was a major part of the team's blockbuster trade for Shaquille O'Neal as well as the draft selections of players like Dwyane Wade, Dorrel Wright and Michael Beasley.
Pfund has also shown an ability to find talent in unexpected places. During his tenure with the Heat, they picked Rasual Butler, Eddie House and Corey Brewer all in the second round.
Pfund is a GM unafraid to make moves to stay competitive and has a keen eye for young talent.
He's a better option than former Cleveland Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry, another candidate for the position, who could never make the right moves to get his Cavs over the hump, even with LeBron James present.
#5) Wesley Matthews Improves His Consistency, Becomes a 20-25 PPG Scorer
Wes Matthews was one of the steals of 2010's free agency frenzy. Originally brought in as a Brandon Roy insurance policy, Matthews came into his own as a starter, averaging nearly 17 points per game and shooting 42% from three point range.
The biggest knock on Matthews is his lack of consistency, but that's an area he can make huge strides in with some diligent offseason work. He's one of the league's elite range shooters, a hard-nosed defender, and was instrumental in keeping the Blazers afloat during the team's brutal midseason stretch when they were without Roy, Camby and Oden.
If Matthews can improve his slashing and moving without the ball just a little bit, that'll put him over the top and given his effort on both ends of the floor, make him a serious candidate to accompany L.A. to next year's All-Star game.
#4) Grant Hill Will Be Brought in for Veteran Leadership/Bench Scoring
This one may be a little far-fetched given that all signs point to Hill returning to Phoenix, but I could see it happening if Hill decides to make one last run at a title. Hill would likely sign something like a two year, $4.5 million contract with a player option for the second year.
Hill, despite being 38 years old, can still contribute significantly to his team and has truly become an incredibly savvy player since a series of brutal ankle injuries robbed him of the explosiveness he was renowned for in his Pistons days.
If you read on (and I hope you do), you'll see I'm predicting a trade that will cost Portland a lot of their veteran presence, so bringing in a battle tested player like Hill would be huge for this young Blazers squad.
Hill could also potentially help Brandon Roy restructure his game the way Hill was forced to in the wake of his injuries.
I wouldn't bank on it, but there's a chance Hill could make his way to Rip City.
#3) LaMarcus Aldridge Continues to Grow, Emerges as League's Best Power Forward
LaMarcus Aldridge surprised just about everyone with the way he elevated his game to carry his team, and I see no reason to think he will stop growing.
L.A. stepped up every facet of his game to help the Blazers' weather their midseason woes; he went from being average on the boards to being one of the most tenacious rebounders this side of Kevin Love and demonstrated incredible offensive versatility, ranging from 18 foot jump shots to terrific post moves.
At only 25, Aldridge still has room to grow as a player, and with work this offseason, he could come back as the NBA's preeminent power forward.
Aldridge's man-to-man and interior defense are excellent, and he has great hands for a player his size. He has a tendency to rely on his jump shots and float to the perimeter sometimes, but if he stays in attack mode and doesn't settle for too many outside shots, he'll be truly unstoppable.
Aldridge spent last summer bulking up and developing his game with assistant coach Bill Bayno, which paid huge dividends once Roy was out of commission and Aldridge became the focal point of the team's offense.
He stated that he intends to continue with last summer's regiment, and given the dramatic improvements L.A. made last year, is it that far fetched that he could return as the best power forward in the NBA?
#2) Andre Miller's Option Will Be Picked Up, But...
The Blazers have been hesitant to pick up Andre Miller's $7.8 million team option for next season (or at least Rich Cho was). Still, I think they will pick up the option on the 35 year-old veteran in order to ultimately use him as trade bait.
There are plenty of teams that would love to have a pass first, crafty point guard like Miller and while rumors of the Blazers targeting Kemba Walker have heated up recently, there's another move I could see the Blazers making that could catapult them to title contention status...
#1) Welcome to Portland, Mr. Paul
This is about as bold as predictions come, but it isn't unfathomable.
Portland was on Paul's list of desired trade locations, and it's easy to see why he would be a perfect fit for the Blazers.
Bringing in Paul would make the Blazers a more athletic team and allow them to get out in transition more frequently than they do with Miller running the point. Though Andre has one of the highest basketball IQs in the NBA, CP3 is right up there and his perimeter defense and floor spacing surpass Miller's.
The circumstances of a trade for Chris Paul really depend on the details of the new CBA, but the Blazers will have to give up the expiring contracts of Marcus Camby and Andre Miller as well as Nicolas Batum, a young player with tremendous upside.
As of right now I see two possible scenarios that could bring Paul to the Blazers:
1) Camby, Batum and Miller are sent to Portland for Chris Paul, Quincy Pondexter and a chunk of the Hornets' trade exception from Peja Stojakovic.
Were this deal to occur, the Blazers would have to look for a cheap free agent center to back up Greg Oden in the event that he suffers another injury. I could see them signing Nazr Mohammed to a deal slightly above the veteran's minimum.
Though he couldn't replicate Marcus Camby's sensational production, Mohammed can still snatch boards, guard the low post and get buckets in the paint.
A starting five of Paul, Matthews, Wallace, Aldridge and Oden would be able to contend with any team in the league and with a bench potentially containing players like Brandon Roy, Grant Hill, Nazr Mohammed, Nolan Smith and Carl Landry, the Blazers would have incredible depth to throw at their opponents each game.
The Hornets get an extremely talented young player to build around in Batum, and with the additions of Camby and Miller, they'd still be in playoff contention while also shedding significant salary at the end of the next season.
2) Camby, Batum, Miller, Rudy Fernandez and a bench player (Luke Babbit, Elliot Williams) for Paul and Emeka Okafor.
This would be if the Hornets wanted to shed Okafor's massive contract, which is likely. While adding Okafor actually wouldn't be a bad thing for the Blazers - he'd be a more than capable bench big man and could easily step into the starting center position if he had to - it wouldn't be an easy trade to make.
Still, Okafor would be owed roughly $40 million over the next three seasons, and that's a tremendous amount for a second option in the middle, no matter how many rebounds they pull down.
Depending on the new salary cap, this deal could prove impossible to orchestrate, considering the Blazers would be shedding roughly $4 million less than they gained and would still have holes to fill in the roster with less financial flexibility.
The deal would certainly be attractive to the Hornets, as they shed a massive contract and bring another solid rotation player or two.
It would definitely be costly, but a Trail Blazers roster featuring one of the league's top three point guards would certainly be a title favorite for years to come.
Thanks for reading!
Let me know what you think about my predictions and any you may have for the Blazers this offseason.
I think this could be a huge summer for Portland, but we'll just have to wait and see...