Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview: 5 Questions

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2011

Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview: 5 Questions

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    The NBA season opens tonight for the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Rose City is abuzz about it!

    Actually, the holidays and the NBA lockout have sucked a lot of the air out of the room for basketball in Rip City.

    That being said, this is an exciting young team with brand-new faces that are sure to entice the love of this very strong fan base here in Portland.

    It has been said by Bill Simmons that Blazers fans are soccer moms for their unconditional love of players and their tendency to value their own talent more than they sometimes deserve.

    However, those are great qualities for a fanbase to possess, something that is sorely missing in today's sports world.

    But this team is sure to surprise and excite their fans, and prove their worthiness of that love.

    Here are five questions facing the Blazers this season.

Will This Team Miss Brandon Roy?

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    Obviously, the fans will miss Roy.

    He was an icon and a star for years, and for many outside of the Pacific Northwest, he was a hidden treasure.

    But in the end, his degenerative knees finally put the dagger in his career (for now).

    So what is to become of this team in his absence?

    Roy definitely is leaving this team better than he received it. They are not lacking in talent and despite some concerns surrounding their size up front, the hole that Roy is leaving is not so daunting to cover as it may appear.

    The Blazers did a masterful job last year in adding Wesley Matthews for a ridiculously smart contract, and this year they bolstered their backcourt with Jamal Crawford.

    Matthews is a streaky scorer, and is capable of solid defense when he wants to engage. But Crawford is the real key here.

    Either off the bench or from the starting unit, Crawford is thinking one thing and one thing only: score.

    The good news for Portland is that he is very good at that very thing.

    Between the two of these guys, the Blazers really shouldn't feel Roy's absence from a playing standpoint.

    Where Roy will be is from a leadership standpoint.

    The key to this hole is LaMarcus Aldridge. He must become a vocal leader this year, something he no doubt is capable of doing.

What Role Should Jamal Crawford Fill?

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    There are rival schools of thought on Jamal Crawford and his signing with Portland.

    One school believes that it is wise to keep Crawford as a sixth man, and that he will better help the team in that role.

    The other school thinks that the Blazers paid him starter money for a reason, and Wesley Matthews was just too inconsistent as a starter last year.

    There is no doubt that there are good reasons for both lines of thinking, but the latter may have a point.

    Last year, Matthews proved to be a bargain, coming in and immediately helping soften the blow of another injury-plagued year for Brandon Roy.

    Take a look at Matthews' game log for last year. He would have a monster game, then the next day he was low double figures. Heck, there was a game last year in which he scored over 30 points, and the next game he was held scoreless.

    You can afford that kind of performance swing from a sixth man, but not from your starter.

    Now look at Crawford. When given consistent minutes, he consistently scores. Sure, he is capable of some bad games as well, but he has a longer resume of success at this level than Matthews.

    And with so much riding on this team and this season, the Blazers can't take the "wait and see" approach with their shooting guards.

How Quickly Will Raymond Felton Click with His New Teammates?

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    The one player that I can see the "soccer moms" falling in love with is Raymond Felton.

    He is a gritty competitor who just flat-out knows the game.

    He is smart, but beyond that he is talented and a true point guard that this team has sorely missed.

    Sure, Andre Miller was a tremendous asset last year. But he often looked first to shoot, and then to set up his mates.

    Felton is not that guy. He is your typical pass-first point guard who is looking to lead the offense.

    The key in this truncated season will be how quickly he can get on the same page with his teammates.

    In all honesty, he should flourish right away. Look at his background. When he was traded last year to Denver from New York, he immediately made his presence felt by being an assist machine off the bench.

    People who are looking to set up their teammates instead of themselves tend to adjust much quicker to new surroundings, and that should help this team find their footing relatively quickly this year.

Can the Re-Teaming of Camby and Thomas Provide Enough Defense Up Front?

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    For a few years now, the Blazers have relied on aging veterans in the front court. A few years ago, it was Juwan Howard. Last year, it was Marcus Camby. This year Camby returns with Kurt Thomas.

    The first two times, the old guy certainly provided more than enough of what Portland needed. Can the third work out as well?

    With Joel Pryzbilla likely done with basketball, the Blazers decided to bring in the veteran Thomas to provide depth.

    This became even more of a priority now that Greg Oden will miss yet another season.

    Thomas is a tough guy. In hockey, he would be considered an enforcer.

    But in the NBA, he is simply a strong veteran.

    Never blessed with a great offensive game, Thomas found his niche as a banger who could dish as well as he took.

    Now reaching the twilight of his career, this becomes even more necessary, as his meager offensive skills have eroded enough to make him fairly one-dimensional.

    What he can still do, however, is set a mean pick and grab a crucial rebound or two. Last year in the playoffs against Miami, he only played in one game, but grabbed eight rebounds.

    The key for this season certainly revolves around LaMarcus Aldridge. He can have a breakout year, but he needs to have big guys around him that can do the dirty work on defense.

    Thomas and Camby need to focus on defense and rebounding, and keep the heat off of Aldridge.

Will This Be the Year That LaMarcus Aldridge Becomes Elite?

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    Living in the Pacific Northwest has its privileges and advantages. The weather is great, the steelhead are amazing, and the seasons are beautiful.

    But you also tend to get overlooked on the national landscape.

    This is especially true when it comes to sports.

    Because their games are on later and they don't have the coverage that the Lakers get, the Blazers tend to have a relative anonymity nationally.

    Players tend to sneak up on pundits. Heck, Brandon Roy didn't really receive his due until later in his career.

    Last year, the Blazers fans saw LaMarcus Aldridge finally figure it out. He was a dominant force offensively, finally taking that next step as a professional.

    However, the pundits still didn't give him his due praise.

    But this year, they won't have an excuse. With the addition of Raymond Felton to help get him the ball, and the addition of Jamal Crawford to stretch the defense, Aldridge should finally take that final step into the elite of this game.

    It really shouldn't be too much to expect an All-Star berth as well as some much-deserved praise from the pundits.

    This will be the year that the rest of the country stumbles on to this Pacific Northwest secret.