Team Name: Portland Trail Blazers
Last Year's Record: 54-28
Key Losses: Sergio Rodriguez, Channing Frye, Shavlik Randolph, Michael Ruffin
Key Additions: Andre Miller, Juwan Howard, Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Mills/Udoka/Collins
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The "disappointing" off-season of the Portland Trail Blazers has been a popular subject among some uninformed national critics. From the Hedo Turkoglu debacle, to Utah matching the offer sheet for Paul Millsap, to delays in signing Brandon Roy to a max deal. An outsider looking in at these situations might view them as failures, but I look at them as blessings in disguise.
The most significant move of the off-season had to be the acquisition of Andre Miller. The Blazers needed a pass first point guard with experience and Miller provides that.
Portland also signed him to a relatively short term deal (two years with a third year option). At 33 years old, Miller is reaching the decline of his career but he hasn't shown any signs of declining numbers yet.
His impact will be more than just numbers though, it's his ability to run a team and contribute to an already stacked roster. Miller comes in with a ton of experience on a team dominated by youth.
With a lack of depth at the true power forward position, Portland also brought in Juwan Howard, who was widely considered over the hill. So far in training camp and in preseason games, Howard has looked surprisingly spry.
He obviously worked hard in the off-season and his mentoring of Greg Oden has already been visible during practice and scrimmages. His best on court abilities still remain, crafty veteran moves, solid mid-range jumper and a big body on the front line. Howard will prove to be a solid acquisition.
Portland also cut some dead weight by trading Sergio Rodriguez for a bump up in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, and also declined to resign Channing Frye.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
The most talked about part of the Trail Blazers is their incredible amount of talent. Some might argue against it, but depth has to be one of their biggest strengths. Regardless of how you set the starting line-up, Portland's second unit could legitimately beat a few of lesser teams in the NBA. The talent on the bench could be the key to a handful of wins in the regular season.
Another major strength has to be youth. To have so many young guys getting experience like last years first round playoff exit, bodes well for the future.
Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the rest of the team now know how it feels to be disappointed in the playoffs. Youth also gets a team through long seasons and tough back to back games. Youth should be a strength for this somewhat experienced young Blazers team that hopes to go even further in the playoffs in 2010.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Unfortunately Portland's biggest weakness could be one of its strengths. No longer can we point to youth as an excuse. With so much talent now on this team, it could pose a problem if winning isn't a priority for every player.
The NBA is not traditionally one with 10-man rotations full of great players. Usually it's three stars and a bunch of role players. Many of the Blazers have not yet realized their talent and might be looking for more.
Can these guys sacrifice money and playing time for winning? If so, for how long? The window of opportunity may not be open for too long with the current structure, therefore, winning is a big priority.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Obviously regular season goals are important, but this season, The Blazers need to advance in the playoffs. A good regular season goal is to win the Northwest division, win 50 or more games and get a two or three seed in the playoffs.
Once Portland makes the playoffs, its goal has to be making the Western Conference finals. Last year, Portland had a three seed against a tough Rockets team and the outcome was less than favorable.
That experience has matured this team and they will be looking for more this year. Winning in the first round of the playoffs would be great, but getting to the Western Conference Finals is a reasonable and obtainable goal.
5. Along with LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, who else should start for the Blazers?
One of the most argued points of the off-season for Portland has been who should start. Many have focused on just Miller and Steve Blake while others have discussed the chemistry of the entire starting five. I believe at this point there are two schools of thought regarding this topic.
One very obvious line-up strategy would be to start your best five players. If that were the case, we'd be looking at Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden.
It sounds like a formidable line-up, one that could take advantage of having scoring options at every position. If one guy is cold, give someone else the ball. In theory this could work, but with the current talent available, this may not be the best option.
The other idea involves keeping Webster, Miller and Oden together, and moving them to the second unit. Those three are capable of scoring and defending, and with Rudy and Juwan Howard, they can spread the floor and take advantage of mismatches.
That would make Steve Blake, Nicolas Batum and Joel Przybilla starters. These three started last year with Brandon and LaMarcus and they provide a nice balance to Portland's one and two scoring options.
Blake plays off Roy and can hit the open three while Joel doesn't demand touches which allows LaMarcus plenty of offensive opportunities. This is a line-up focused more on defense while also giving the best players the right opportunities to get touches.
Blake, Roy, Batum, Aldridge and Przybilla should start the season in the first unit. It just makes more sense from a basketball standpoint. As long as Miller and Oden aren't too concerned with starting, the 10-man rotation in Portland could be too much for other NBA teams to stop.
Predicted record: 56-26